The possibility that I am living into is having enthusiastic people living passionate lives in a joyful society. The key to making this a global reality is understanding and supporting everyone to have access to optimal states of mind. If you review all of the world’s philosophical and psychological literature you can boil it all down to our fundamental moral obligation. Our fundamental moral obligation is to do no harm and help when we can. All the rest is commentary. I understand both the nature of both harm and help in terms of optimal states of mind.
You cause harm if you prevent someone from having access to optimal states of mind. The obvious case of harm is physical violence. If you attack someone and damage them physically you are creating certain states of mind in them. The most likely states are pain, anger, fear, and many others that are non-optimal. There is a small chance that their mind might enter an optimal state, but that would be unlikely except in a specially trained mind, such as that of a martial artist or other warrior-type. Harm can also take the more subtle forms of severe poverty, an oppressive work environment, or emotional turmoil.
You can help someone by facilitating them to have access to optimal states of mind. The obvious case of help is medical treatment. If you provide someone who is injured with the means to heal their injury, or alleviating severe pain, then you are causing a change in the state of their mind. The most likely states that will result are relief, rest, clarity of mind, and many others that are more optimal than pain and anguish.
It is the less obvious cases that make it more challenging to distinguish help and harm. It may not be so clear with a parent who sets what they believe to be a safety boundary for their teenager and then receives a reaction from their teenager that gives every appearance of pain and anguish at what they believe to be a hindrance to their budding sense of maturity and self-determination. In this case both sides may have legitimate concerns.
The greatest challenge in each life and as a society is figuring out how to meet our fundamental moral obligations to prevent harm and provide help. Resolving the differences of opinion is paramount. The fundamental political and social problem we have today is the conflict of two value systems that disagree on how to prioritize certain values. Both value systems include the value pairs of empathy/ responsibility and strength/obedience but disagree which should be put in a higher position as a means of thinking about making political and social decisions. Another difference between the two value systems is that when strength/obedience is placed as a higher priority responsibility tends to be thought of as simply and directly caused by individuals without significant regard for the emergent effects of group dynamics. On the other hand, placing empathy and responsibility as a higher priority tends to enable a more systemic view of how complex the causes of individual behavior can be.
In my experience resolving differences can only truly happen when we choose to be in communication, in communion, in community with both the person who disagrees and with all the relationships that are at stake when a course of action is taken (and other possible courses are ignored.) Making this assertion about the necessity of communication and accounting for the relationship as a significant party to the decision is a declaration of empathy and responsibility as defining core values along with universally held values such as fairness, freedom, equality, and justice.
I choose to put empathy and responsibility as higher values than strength and obedience because when push comes to shove if strength and obedience take precedence then the relationship will be sacrificed to preserve the relative social and/or political position of the participants in the conflict. This is true because the strength/obedience perspective does not recognize the relationship as a meaningful factor and therefore cannot anticipate the emergence of effects that are totally unpredictable based solely on the known qualities of individuals.
Let me illustrate this with a story from my teaching practice: I remember when one of my first students was about 6 or 7 years old and his parents expressed concern about his reading skills. I’ll call him
I suspect you could not find three situations with more different expectations of the same person. His Mom was single and working with
Dad on the other hand was all about showing strength and independence. He expected
To make my point: First of all, there are no individual villains in this story. Every single one of the four characters;
If you take the normal operating assumptions of the strength/ obedience value system then the cause of
After investigating the situation I consulted with the parents separately about how to address what they perceived as a problem with his reading skills. I pointed out the disparity in his reading behaviors and explained that they needed to look at their own attitude about reading and also consider how their expectations about reading may be affecting their relationship with their son. With this guidance they were both able to reflect on their priorities and make a positive shift in their relationships with
In the final analysis I believe that both parents were making the same mistake from different values. They were both looking at
The possibility I am living into is enthusiastic people living enthusiastic lives in a joyful society. The key to making this a global reality is understanding and supporting everyone to have access to optimal states of mind. We need to learn to see relationships as a factor in the equation, not just the individuals who are in relationship. The only way we are going to achieve these outcomes is to actively seek to understand the complexity of the world as best we can and to consistently act on and express how the core values of empathy and responsibility are the best way to meet our fundamental moral obligations to prevent harm and help when we can.
[Also posted on VisualizePossibilities.com]