I don’t believe people need “rules,” any rules, for living an optimal life, and for creating an optimal society. Let me say that again — we don’t need Rules. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
What people need is CONNECTION. We need to be ensconced in a community of people who we know deeply, live with interdependently, and care about. When we are surrounded by a sufficiently warm, inclusive community, we generally fall into line with that community. We don’t treat people like shit, lie, steal, rape, murder, etc., because if we do, the community expresses its displeasure towards us. And who wants to disappoint all the people who love them?
This doesn’t require “Rules”; it requires a basic process of collective accountability. It requires a community of people to say, “hey, we don’t like being acted towards in a shitty fashion, so here, let us help you learn to get along with others better.” And then, for the tiny proportion of people who are truly psychopathic enough to be immune to community pressures, what happens? Well, historically, when we lived as tribes, those truly impossible-to-deal-with rarities would be shunned. AND they would be incredibly rare. The vast, vast majority of people are deeply responsive to, indeed are “needy” for social acceptance. This is not a weakness; it is our greatest strength as a species.
e.g., (from a Facebook post in The Chimp Zone: Primate Portal)
This is how “socialism” avoids turning into the Gulag. A strong-enough community would, when the power-seekers and hierarchy-believers start to vie for power, stand against them collectively and absolutely refuse to give them positions of power. Just like how, if everyone in the schoolyard refuses to be a bystander, bullies quickly get shut down. If every member of a family bonds together against the abuser, the abuser finds themselves without anyone to abuse.
What we have never in modern times been able to do is to bring people together into a strong enough community, so that the tyrants are prevented from seizing power. And this is exactly the challenge of the 21st century. Socialism and community-based self-governance DO work. Native societies have shown us that, incontrovertibly. What we need to figure out how to do now, is scale that up to the modern, 8 billion-people world. We haven’t managed to do this, yet. But this is exactly what humans are. We are the species (or rather, a species), that rises to the challenge through cooperation and collective effort, in which we HELP EACH OTHER adapt to difficult circumstances.
Imagine a society where, instead of punishment, people’s misdeeds were met with concern, sadness, forgiveness, and help. Instead of jails, we had deeply-ingrained practices of restorative justice. Instead of “bad grades”, we had wise mentors who helped us discover what we were fascinated by, found meaningful or beautiful. Instead of shame, we had encouragement and community-support that inspired us to dig deep and keep at it. And instead of being scolded and disciplined into being “strong” and persevering through tough times, we had allies, mentors, helpers, who helped us see our own strengths, who helped us create meaning in our lives, and who inspired us through their own strength, stick-to-it-iveness and responsibility.
Imagine a society where toddlers were held and accepted and loved through their temper tantrums. Where patient, grounded adults would sit with the little one and teach them to breathe through the fear and anger, would demonstrate over and over how to calm down until the child internalized that skill.
Imagine a society that helped people get back up when they fell down, so that people learned that they WERE NOT ALONE, and had the opportunity to experience the deep gratitude that comes from someone being a Good Samaritan when you are at your weakest.
Imagine teenagers being treated not like irresponsible, entitled little shits who need to grow up and accept responsibility, but instead are embraced into communities of practice by a plethora of loving adults and mentors, helping them, teaching them by example.
At the present moment, it seems we do almost everything wrong, from a developmental perspective. We take childhood and we relegate it to a desk, a homework schedule, and pre-set “recess periods” where kids are ALLOWED, for brief moments, to run around and do whatever they want — as long as that doesn’t involve swearing, rough-housing, throwing snowballs, etc.etc. “Follow the rules and you can play in ways that the adult world has sanctioned as acceptable”, is the message our far-too-heavily structured and institutionalized society gives to kids. “Because you are too useless, stupid, and immature to be able to think for yourself and be responsible”, is the implicit subtext.
And when these heavily-regulated, punished and controlled children turn into adults, what do they do? Well, the same thing, of course! These are hardly well-balanced, secure, wise adults! Hell no! They (we) are insecure, power-hungry tyrants. We’ve been controlled for our entire upbringings, and now, finally, it’s our turn. And because we’ve so deeply internalized a distrust in our own innate goodness, we also don’t trust the snotty-nosed little buggers we are now given power over.
Just watch parents interact with their kids. (Or schoolteachers, for that matter). Watch how ANGRY far-too-many of them get as soon as the kid “misbehaves”.
“Don’t talk back! Don’t give me that attitude! Stand up straight! Don’t make so much noise! Don’t talk to your sister like that! (Ignoring the fact that this is exactly how the adult is talking to them). Eat properly! Clean your room!“
We can do better than this. We can grow a more compassionate society by being more compassionate ourselves. Kids who are standing with slumped shoulders and a lazy, give-up mentality don’t need to be chastised into “not being weak” and sorting out their Bucko selves.
No, they need to be loved. They need someone to believe in them, to show interest in them. They need their parents and teachers and other adults to LISTEN to them, enjoy their creativity, their humour, appreciate their efforts. Instead of being given Rules, they need to be given loving, wise attention.
“No rules for life” is the same as saying “loving, nurturing attention and wise guidance for life”.
And THAT is the antidote for too much, destructive chaos. The rest of the chaos that is inherent in a living system, is great! It’s the source of all creativity, innovation, play and good times.
As our world increasingly faces the challenges of social inequality, over-militarization and a collapsing web of life, relying on Rules and control has only one outcome — the rise of authoritarianism and violent subjugation of “the other”. But dictators and xenophobes do not make the world great again. We will not solve the problems of the 21st century using the approaches of the 20th century that got us here in the first place. No, it is time to evolve, collectively.
Besides, I don’t want to live in a world of Rules and “antidotes to chaos.” I want to live in a world of wonder and fascination and humour and zest and play and connection and wisdom and love and kindness and gratitude and generosity and trust.
Chills Prof. Dan, this gave me chills. (Haha gross I know).
The part where you ask us to imagine a society where we would be loved through our temper tantrums (not only applies to kids!) is very true. And on one hand your post makes me feel hopeful because there are people like you who understand, and believe in humanity this much. But on the other hand, it also makes me feel sad and angry because actual reality, as you point out, is not this way. And we are faaar from being there. Which is very discouraging. So much so that I almost feel like I’ve given up on people’s abilities to grow in this direction and actually improve society. (This also includes me). When I look at society as a whole, to me, things look bleak. And when I look at people as individuals, things look bleak as well. I don’t read or watch the news, but all it would take is for me to tune in and confirm all the bad that I know is happening. Of course, people do good things too – and those things aren’t broadcast as much – but that doesn’t erase all the bad that is also going on. Just because people are raising money, helping others in need, etc. doesn’t negate the fact that there are killers walking around taking children, or politicians that are lying. It doesn’t have to be huge stuff like this, it could even be “small” things like siblings holding grudges, your teacher undermining you, and so on. I mean, these aren’t small things, but don’t involve killing.
(As a side note, I know this question gets asked a lot but: are people doing bad things, or are they actually bad people? Based on what you wrote, I think it looks like people do bad things, but have the capacity to change by being loved and heard. Except the few psychopaths. I don’t know about this area so I don’t know what the research says about people being inherently good or bad).
But either way, it all still seems hopeless.
BUT! But, I do recognise that I might just be in a pessimistic MOOD at the moment. Because in truth, the things you say make logical sense and in theory, it would be possible to get to the point where our society becomes like the one you ask us to imagine. It would take a long time and would happen slowly, but we could get there.
I really liked your post and perhaps I could convert to the HOPEFUL side, where you – and others – stand. Thanks!
Thank you SO MUCH, Nadia, for this amazing response. I share that oscillation between hope and pessimism myself, and bounce back and forth on a daily basis. Things do look bleak. They ARE bleak. When you factor in the unraveling web of life, and realize how a bottoming-out ecology is a recipe for virtually endless social conflict and war, then yes, things look bloody terrible.
But this is also the reason to be hopeful for mass-scale societal transformation. It’s like people hitting bottom, and then finally leaving their addiction behind them. Or it’s like the first Noble Truth of Buddhism (the truth of the inevitability of suffering), which lays the foundation for the true possibility of enlightenment/liberation. Or it’s like the general functioning of the negative emotional system. Pain IS a signal that change is needed. And when HUGE changes are needed, sometimes it does, unfortunately take HUGE pain to force us to confront that fact, and to let go of our attachment to the status quo, and our aversion to the fear of the unknown that we must face if we are to embrace a new path, a new way of being.
I often, when I look at the seemingly ‘truly evil’ people of the world, find myself descending into anger, despair, and just wanting to basically “lock ’em up and throw away the key.” But I also remember a friend of mine, a bunch of years ago, who, after becoming a therapist, found herself working with pedophiles. To me, that’s pretty damn near to the bottom of the barrel. But she told me what astonished her the most is the humanity and heart of so many of them. There were pedophiles who had never committed a sexual act against a minor, but found themselves obsessed with the thought of doing so, and hating themselves for it. They were in therapy so they could learn to control their impulses, and ensure that they never acted upon them. They didn’t want to be the way they were, but, well, here they are, existing in a way that they themselves hate and want to change, but don’t know how. There were others who had taken some steps into the darkness of that way of being, and, at least in her eyes, seemed to genuinely want to be rehabilitated, but were struggling to quiet the inner demons that compelled them.
I have to admit, that was a hard pill for me to swallow. Most of me would much rather just hate them and think of them as unredeemable scumbags, errors of humanity that we should just get rid of. Speaking as someone who was preyed upon as a child, I could barely comprehend even the possibility of what she was saying. But as time went on and her work with these men (they were all men, as far as I know….), deepened, it did seem that indeed, there is a spark of humanity even in those dark hearts. This was a lesson I still have not fully integrated into my belief system, but it does always come back to me when I want to just descend into hating someone like Trump, or white supremacists, etc. It’s like with prisoners — the vast, vast, vast majority of prisoners, especially those in for violence, are essentially traumatized little boys (or girls) who were never given the tools, love, and acceptance necessary to heal and grow past their pain.
I saw a documentary a few months ago called The Work. It’s about a rehabilitation program amongst violent offenders. And it made me absolutely weep. Check it out. It’s….well, it’s incredible.
So yeah, there HAS TO be hope for humanity. Even the cops who are brutalizing protesters (and I’ve studied, followed, and in a relatively small way experienced this for about twenty-five years), are little boys and girls who, for the most part, think they are doing the right thing and are the “good guys” protecting society. And even when they get off on their power and ability to harm another without repercussion, that bullying comes from unaddressed trauma, in most cases, I believe. Pretty much all bullying does.
So….yeah. There HAS TO be hope for humanity. People’s hearts can open, and I think that’s true for anybody. (Maybe not the few psychopaths, as you say, I honestly don’t know.)
So maybe that’s what the next 30 years is about for humanity, as our biosphere degrades and our brethren species continue careening into annihilation. Maybe this is what finally evolves humanity toward Love.
I hope so. And I guess the question becomes, for you, me, and each person — in what way are you going to contribute to this? Will you help people open, or close? Will you commit to your own practice to heal and open, or close?
Thank you again for this wonderful note and for sharing your own rawness with me (and whoever else may read this).
No, thank YOU for your response! Your comments remind me of my mother and how she always writes these looong messages, emails, texts, and most people get annoyed by that and don’t even fully read them, even though she pours her heart out. This would always make me sad and think that no one else must exist, that writes long, thoughtful messages like that – messages that take up a lot of energy and time to formulate. But now I know that’s not true 🙂 and it makes me feel better.
It seems though, that there is a distinction between understanding where someone is coming from, and actually forgiving/excusing them and their behaviour. Even though I can understand that a pedophile might hate themselves for being that way, the fact is, that, they are that way, and it has already caused damage. Damage that may not be reversible. And like you note, this could also apply to bullies or parents, that may be abusive because they too have their own traumas. It looks like (almost) all people have some sort of trauma(s) that is causing them to be ‘bad’. But if that’s the case, is it even possible to avoid it in the first place, or is it just a part of life that people will be traumatised as kids and must heal from it as adults? In the same way that in the Buddhist view life is suffering, so maybe trauma is inevitable. I don’t know. BUT then again, this is not a reason to not do anything about it. Because accepting it and then doing nothing about it means it will never change. BUT then again, maybe it can’t change because it’s an inherent part of life. …If what I’m saying even makes sense.
Thank you for recommending The Work, I’m sure that it will also make me cry, based on the trailer and what you said.
And my final thoughts are, that after reading your comment, I decided to do a little experiment in my mind, and try to see people as suffering little children. And actually, I’ve been doing this before already, and it has helped a lot when it comes to acting with understanding in my relationships. But I thought I should apply it to others, like strangers. And would you look at that, it feels much better to think this way! Who would’ve known? 😉 Who would’ve thought that acting from a place of love would feel better than having hate in your system? Feeling love and hope feels a lot better than feeling anger and pessimism. It’s just a matter of accessing that place. Once you’re there, of course it’ll feel better.
But anger and hate also serve the purpose of showing you what your values are. So if someone acts in a way that doesn’t fit with your values, you’ll get angry. For example, if you spent so much time doing something and it goes unappreciated by the recipient, you might think that they are a bad person because they didn’t acknowledge your efforts enough. But maybe the acknowledgement you are expecting is not a priority for them, it’s not something they think is valuable in this situation. But I guess that even if someone else has different values, it doesn’t mean they are a bad person. I just need to wrap my head around that, because it would mean that there are no universal, objectively ‘good’ values. Oof, I don’t know anymore! But thank you for your insights and for sparking my reflection.
Woooooooow. Your personal experiment to see all people as suffering little children is amazing. I am going to practice that! Tell you what, for one week, from now until next Monday, I will keep this at the forefront of my mind. In every interaction. And see how it goes.
I am reminded by advice I once read from Thich Nnat Hanh. He was talking about couples who fight, and he said he advises people in this situation to, just before they engage with their partner, take a few moments and imagine this person they love, 300 years in the future.
Ooof, right? Hits you right in the gut. I think your suffering little children experiment might be similar in its effect, although obviously different in practice, orienting one more directly towards compassion than to the kind of ‘existential’ perspective that the 300 years thing seems to do.
We really are just these nexus points in reality, aren’t we? A “limited time offer” in which the universe’s various processes converge and make us, us. And definitely, someday, they’ll diverge from ‘us’ and converge elsewhere.
With regards to your earlier point, I also agree that there’s a distinction to be made between understanding where someone is coming from and forgiving/excusing their behaviour. However, I do think you might be conflating forgiveness and ‘excusing’ or ‘accepting’ in a way that I would question. To me, forgiveness is not about excusing a person, and acceptance is, similarly, not about “then doing nothing about it”. I think that both forgiveness and acceptance are necessary steps towards changing something.
Take acceptance, for example — if there’s something that you don’t accept about yourself, like “I have an addiction”, or “I have a problem with anger”, then instead of being willing to work on it, you will tend to defend yourself against that awareness, and certainly against other people’s feedback. “Me? No, I don’t have a problem; I can quit anytime.” Or in the case of anger, “You think I’m angry? No, YOU are the one who’s angry…” Etc. Until a person confronts the truth of their own ‘darkness’, and can accept that, yep, this is how I am, then they won’t be sufficiently willing to work on themselves to effect change.
It’s like, in meditation, one of the first things that often happens (aside from confronting the general restlessness of ‘monkey mind’, or sleepiness, etc.), is that people start to confront themselves and see through the illusions, defenses, etc., they have about themselves. This is necessary for change to occur. So, acceptance doesn’t lead to “doing nothing about it”, but in fact, the opposite. A lack of acceptance leads to engaging in self-delusion in order to maintain the status quo of one’s self-concept.
Similarly with forgiveness. This is something I have seriously struggled with. And to be fair, I am still not there, in the sense of having forgiven myself for my ‘flaws’, nor forgiven certain people who I see as having done harmful things. Forgiveness is not one of my strengths, I’ll admit. But for sure, without forgiveness, it’s virtually impossible to work for change. You won’t change yourself if you can’t forgive yourself for stuff you’ve done in the past, and here’s where I think your “see everyone as suffering children” practice could be profoundly transformative. Once you can see that your own ‘flaws’ are the result of the conditions you experienced in the past, you can genuinely begin to let go of things like shame, which pretty much only hold a person back from taking responsibility for themselves, healing, and working to improve.
With others, I think it’s the same. Without forgiveness, you won’t work towards helping people to change, allowing people to make up for what they’ve done, etc. Basically, a lack of forgiveness becomes the present set of conditions that leads to a future lack-of-change.
But yeah…..I do struggle with this. It’s a lot easier to hold onto anger and judgement than to work towards embracing forgiveness. And sometimes, I just don’t want to. I don’t feel like the person deserves it. Which really means, I know, that I have not yet sufficiently internalized the view that indeed, we are mere nexus points. It’s like in Buddhism — the cause of all suffering is the mistaken belief in the separate self (and subsequently, attachment to that separation).
**This is a great convo!! Thank you again!!**
One question about your post — I don’t understand what you mean towards the end when you conclude that there may be no universal, objectively ‘good’ values. What do you mean by that?? If you don’t mind clarifying, I’m finding this conversation great for clarifying my own thinking! 🙂
And thank you, hahaha, for the comments about your mom and looooong messages. For one thing, having ANYONE read my thoughts is….well, it’s very gratifying. And for another, being told I remind someone of their awesome mom is just the coolest. 🙂
Okay, now I’m off to cook dinner….and contemplate whoever crosses my mind, as a suffering little child.
Hi again Nadia,
After my response last night, I was reminded by my partner of a whole other layer of forgiveness, which I probably forgot about because, in truth, this is not something I do very well. But let me run this by you, and see what you think — in this way of thinking, forgiveness is about freedom for oneself.
What I (she) means by this is that forgiveness towards another person, such as forgiving one’s abuser or someone who committed harm, isn’t even primarily ABOUT the other person. Instead, it’s about letting go of one’s feelings of anger, hurt, judgement, etc., in order to no longer be subject to those reactive feelings in relation to the other person. It’s like saying, “Yes, this person harmed me, and having worked through my anger, etc., towards them, I can ‘let this go’ and reclaim my freedom. Not that what they did was ‘ok’ in any way, but I will release these feelings, this judgement, that I can go on in my life without still being affected by what they did. I forgive ‘them’, because after all, it wasn’t ‘them’, they were merely the ‘nexus point’, the vessel, the messenger, through which the karmic web acted upon me. I won’t add to this karmic burden anymore. I forgive them, and now I can reclaim my freedom from them.”
Of course, you can’t just say all that stuff and ‘ta daaa’, it happens. THAT process is a practice of letting go, grounding and plugging one’s awareness into the ‘higher’ dimension of inter-being. Easier said than done…. 🙂
But with time and effort? Oh yeah, this is possible to experience.
And, I like this interpretation of forgiveness. “I choose to be free, through facing the truth, and letting go of the entanglements of past actions.”
— Hopefully she will chime in here at some point, because she’s far better at understanding and articulating this than I am. 🙂
What do you think?
Hahaha you made me laugh, thank you! Sure, I’m curious to see how the experiment goes for you too! I’ve noticed that it’s easier to think of people as traumatised little kids when I’m calm, but of course, in the midst of our fights, well, it’s almost impossible. Emphasis on almost, which means that there is room for growth yay!
I like what you said about “once you can see that your own ‘flaws’ are the result of the conditions you experienced in the past, you can genuinely begin to let go of things”. This makes a lot of sense, and like a therapist told me before, there is always a reason. If someone is acting a certain way there’s a reason for it. And it seems that thinking of them as a suffering child can be one way of looking for that reason. It’s the same with the body – when we get certain symptoms, there’ a reason for them. Or a cause. So yes, it makes sense!
Regarding your second comment on forgiveness: yes that’s exactly what my Mom (here I go again with her, sorry! But I’m glad you think she’s awesome haha) would say about forgiveness too! EXACTLY THIS! That it’s not about the other person; it’s more about you and gaining freedom so you can move on. I too, struggle with forgiveness because I always feel like the other person needs to learn a lesson, so, no, I can’t forgive them. Or like you said, they just don’t deserve it. But if I forgive them, regardless of whether or not they’ll learn the lesson I want to impose on them, at least I’ll feel better (based on this view about forgiveness). I think that after you’ve forgiven said person, you can then take the necessary steps to no longer be around them, or think about them, etc. so that you don’t get hurt again.
But in all honesty, I’m not sure, because I still can’t seem to separate forgiving and excusing. I understand what you wrote, but it doesn’t click in my mind. I understand the difference between accepting and excusing – accepting things the way they are is accepting the facts (ex. someone harmed someone else. That’s a fact), and excusing is saying that what they did was ok. Those are not the same. But where does forgiving fall? If I do understand it, then forgiving is first accepting and then letting go/moving on. There’s no need to involve thinking about whether or not what they did was ok. Alright, I think I get it now actually.
The ‘releasing your feelings of anger’ seems to be the hardest part, at least for me too. Because it really does feel like if you let it go, it means that what they did was ok. If you move on, it means that it was ok. Which of course, doesn’t follow, but I guess the brain just assumes that. And for me, if I stop thinking about something bad that someone did it means that what they did was ok because I no longer think about it ‘angrily’. I really just want the other person to learn a lesson and justice to be restored (ex. the person will stop hurting other people), because otherwise it’s not fair! It’s not fair if they get to be forgiven so they can keep doing what they do! BUT THERE IS A DISTINCTION. I logically, completely understand the distinction, but when it comes down to actually implementing it, then the irrational part kicks in and nothing gets done (ie. forgiving doesn’t take place).
So to answer your question about what I think, well, I think this interpretation of forgiveness is a really great one! It’s just that I don’t like it, if I think about implementing it haha! I think it’s because my stupid brain hasn’t matured enough, or hasn’t become ‘enlightened’ enough to be able to do difficult and fancy things like this – like plugging myself into the universe’s energy and letting go. But you said that this takes time – maybe even a lifetime – and I 100% believe that it’s possible to get there. I guess not right now for me, but conversations like this surely help to get closer!
And now onto clarifying what I meant in my previous comment when I concluded that there may be no universal, objectively ‘good’ values. Yes, I wasn’t very clear sorry! This shows that my thoughts on the matter are jumbled, so I don’t really know exactly what I believe. But I guess what I was trying to say is that: can we ever truly say that someone did something bad, if there are no universal values of what constitutes good or bad ones? I don’t know about extreme cases like murder, etc. But let’s say that someone doesn’t reply to my text, and I think, “wow, they’re so mean, they didn’t even answer my question. It’s just common decency to answer someone’s text”. Let’s say I have this thought, which would mean that I value respecting others by replying to their texts. But this person doesn’t seem to value it like I do. If we all have different values, and so there are no ‘objectively good values that every person should have’ then can we say that either one of us is the ‘bad’ one? I don’t know if I expressed it more clearly this time. And I have a suspicion that my logic is off (I think that two people could value the same thing but express it differently and so my example would break down). But my head always hurts when I start thinking of good vs. bad, and OBJECTIVE truth. So we can just disregard this whole paragraph, I don’t know where I was going with it.
I feel like the spider on my wall has slowly been creeping closer and closer to me as I’ve been writing, and I don’t want to deal with it right now. So I too, will go make dinner to escape this scary beast from hell!
omg, amazing. Too many things to say right now, not enough time. So, for the future! 🙂
You made me laugh too. And think! Thank you.