To Love the Humankind: Pursuing “Ren” in Canadian Society

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Nov 1, 2021 | Blog

Similar to Bible for the Western World, Analects of Confucius was always the required reading in my traditional Chinese classes. One key concept in Analects is ren. While it is indeed a vivid concept with numerous explanations by different people in different eras, Confucius decided to take a simple approach:

Fan-Chi (a disciple of Confucius) asked questions about ren.

Confucius said, “Love people.”

At Vantage Point, Knowledge Philanthropists (internally known as “KPs”), are skilled volunteers who “contribute their specific expertise and experience towards our mission: lifting the capacity of not-for-profit leaders.”  This definition makes perfect sense, but “philanthropy” is still not a simple word for me, someone whose first language is not English. Whenever coming across an unfamiliar word, I always turn to etymology for answers. I found that “philanthropy” is the combination of “phil- loving” and “anthrōpos- mankind,” so it originally meant: love the humankind.

“Philanthropy” became less strange to me when I discovered its etymology because it made me recall what I had learned in elementary and middle school.

Ren and philanthropy are fundamentally the same in meaning, even though there was virtually no communication between Ancient Chinese and Ancient Greek civilizations. The interconnection between civilizations is why I did not find it strange or difficult to work for the not-for-profit sector in Canada, even though I received most of my education in another country. I bet Confucius would do the same thing if he were a Canadian in the contemporary world. He would be travelling from east coast to west coast in his 2003 Toyota Corolla, talking to people, and protesting on the streets with marginalized groups. And then, he would join a local not-for-profit to build steadier connections with the communities and exemplify ren.

So how does ren specifically relate to my work at Vantage Point? I’m not going to exaggerate the influences of not-for-profit organizations, but my job at Vantage Point offers me a somewhat institutionalized way to love humankind. As the first contact to everyone related to Vantage Point (or, in other words, stakeholders), I respond to general inquiries, ranging from questions on our workshops to requests from someone living in another country looking for volunteer opportunities in Canada. I don’t turn down requests, even the tough ones. Instead, sometimes I put them on our Slack channel, and our team members are always happy to provide input. It may seem silly, as fulfilling many of these requests does not generate direct revenue, but “Vantage Point exists to support the people moving these organizations forward – Executive Directors, board members, senior leaders, managers, staff, and volunteers,” and we mean it!

This mentality shows up in many ways, like spending all of Truth and Reconciliation Day in team learning. It was a day full of tears, memories, anger, and, more importantly, love. I quoted Bob Dylan to break the silence while it was raining hard at the end of the group learning:

“I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests

I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans

I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard

And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard

And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall”

These lyrics depict perseverance and remind me of frequent bus rides. (I enjoy walking the beautiful streets of Vancouver but take a bus to avoid the rain). When there are no seats available on a cramped and full bus, I always feel both physically and emotionally drained. But I’ve noticed that the yellow stripe acts as the Confucius-on-the-bus: “For your safety, please hold on.”

Headshot of Biao Zheng with crossed hands


Biao Zheng

Biao is our Operations and Fund Development Coordinator, who has a passion for continually learning and tackling new opportunities. Throughout his career, Biao has accumulated experience in both the healthcare and not-for-profit sector. Specifically, MJ’s Natural Pharmacy…

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