Ugly Human or Humane Hero?

There was a popular novel in the 1960s called The Ugly American, about U.S. expatriates in south-east Asia. The title phrase has come to be interpreted as representing ignorant attitudes sometimes displayed by rich westerners when they travel to poorer countries in the south – those who don’t bother to learn the customs or language of the places they visit.

However, the book title is actually a literal description of the main character – a gentle, understanding soul who stands out because of his compassion for the people in whose land he is a guest. He just happens to be physically unattractive to most others. In fact, according to the premise of this book, it’s his “ugliness” that allows him to feel empathy for others who are scorned and mistreated. His compassionate heart allowed him to transform his perceived flaws into actions that helped others.

In a similar way, Temple Grandin – the famous expert in animal behaviour – has said that her autism is what helps her understand and feel compassion for animals. Through her consultation work with the livestock industry, she has improved the lives of millions of animals by improving handling and reducing stress. She has travelled to Alberta from her home in Colorado numerous times, to consult with the livestock industry and suggest improvements to livestock handling facilities and management practices.

We included many of Dr. Grandin’s ideas when we developed the high school resources for CTS Agriculture courses at And because of her example of how a caring heart can transform an apparent weakness into actions that help other living beings, we featured her on this year’s poster.

These examples demonstrate that by converting our apparent  “uglinesss” into compassionate actions, we move from being  an “ugly human” into a “humane hero.”

As teachers, you can help your students discover what’s in their hearts – leading them to understand how they can act to make a difference in their world. One way to start is to enter our Humane Heroes Contest, where students have the chance to reflect on what’s in their hearts, and possibly win a class pizza party.

There’s three ways to win: students can (1) show what’s in their hearts, (2) tell the story of a humane hero, or (3) be heroes themselves by acting to raise awareness or doing something to help animals in your community. Entries can be done as a class, in groups or individually. All those who enter will receive kindness counts stickers and get their mark on our Kindness Map. Get more information on the contest and how to enter on our contest page. Hurry, entries are due on May 12!

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