Don't Knock Spirituality. It's the Reinforcement to Tolerance, Social Welfare

Aug 14 , 2021
By Halima Abate (MD)

There are diverse and distinct causes of prosocial behaviour. But it is the choices that one makes based on spiritual beliefs and values that most directly relate to the creation of certain lifestyle habits, and can last a long time, even a lifetime.

Spirituality helps us reason out the meaning of our lives, and paves a way to foster our purpose and direction. These are not expressed directly by religion, which is a personal awareness or conviction of the existence of a supreme being or supernatural power, and usually involves a faith overseen by institutions.

Spirituality, from its Latin form spiritus, meaning "breathing sense," reflects the beliefs and practices based on personal values and ideology of the meaning and purpose of life. It is a way of being and experiencing that comes through an awareness of a transcendent dimension. It designates the human longing for a sense of meaning through morally responsible relationships between diverse individuals, families, communities, cultures and religions. It involves contemplating making personal meaning out of situations, understanding oneself, and appreciating the importance of connections to others.

Spirituality – above and beyond religiosity – may be uniquely associated with greater compassion and enhanced altruism toward strangers. It may be that encouraging spirituality, rather than encouraging other aspects of religiosity, would lead to greater kindness, generosity, compassion, and altruism. Spirituality also helps people cope with illness, suffering and death, while influencing end-of-life decisions. All people, with or without a connection to organised religion or any spiritual practices, seem to benefit from finding a sense of meaning, purpose and connectedness.

Being a spiritual person does not mean adhering to a strict religion to reap the benefits. Neither does that have to be the focus. As spirituality rests upon an individual’s inner being, each person addresses it differently to get the meaning of life, find hope, leave a legacy and hang on to optimism. The social work profession has always shown a commitment to issues of human diversity and oppressed populations, which have some relationship to spirituality.

On the other hand, history shows that some parts of organised religion have played a negative or impeding role in social and political contexts. These may include the use of religious texts, policies and practices to deny human rights to persons of colour, women and people with sexual orientation different from the majority. However, at the same time, organised religion has a history of involvement in social justice movements and causes: civil rights movements, the peace movement, the women’s movement, the gay rights movement, abolition of the death penalty and the deep ecology movement.

It is thus up to observers to find the spirituality within them. Some do as such through religion, which is just as acceptable as long as it leads towards socially progressive causes. The choice of religion, or whether or not one chooses to practice it, is not a matter of contention to spirituality as a social value.

Spirituality can also deepen the debate about measuring subjective well-being and challenge the cultural hegemony of 'happiness' by focusing instead on upholding certain commitments and ideals about the good life, including a normative vision of human development – what it means for us to grow. Through spirituality and humanism, people can execute actions with a concern for other people within the social sphere; social spirituality being something done in the social domain by spiritual people.

Recognising and exercising the qualities of spirituality in maturing relationships and acquiring knowledge about ways to deal with matters of the human spirit gives rise to prosociality because of its strong association with compassion and concern for others’ welfare. As it enhances greater compassion and altruism, encouraging spirituality would lead to greater kindness, generosity, compassion, and altruism in our societies.

PUBLISHED ON Aug 14,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1111]

Halima Abate (MD) is a public health professional with over a decade of experience. She can be reached at

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