Sunday, April 5, 2015

Creating a Safer World for Our Children

There are many who think that the way to create a safer world for our children is to make sure that we have the strongest military force in the world, a strong police presence in our cities, and the right to carry a weapon in any setting.  In short, to make sure that we have the power to protect ourselves, whether offensively or defensively.

This point of view accepts as immutable fact that we live in a dangerous world.  There is nothing that can be done about it.  It is human nature. 

I would argue, however, that a world of danger is not an immutable fact; it is not an inherent aspect of human nature.  There is instead a different reason why the world is and has been filled with danger.  The sane way forward is not to arm ourselves to the teeth but to ask why there is so much danger lurking out there and what each of us as individuals, groups, and nations can do to make this truly a safer world for our children.

Man’s “inhumanity to man,” whether as physical violence or other forms of cruelty, is without question rife in our world at every level of human interaction … not just between nations or opposing groups, but within the family and in the workplace.  

Terrorist beheadings are a current example of what usually comes to mind when people think of man’s inhumanity.  The holocaust, Rwanda, various acts during wartime, slavery, and lynching are examples from the past often cited.  

But “inhumanity” goes beyond such horrific acts.  Actually more harmful, because more prevalent, are the insidious low level inhumanities that occur on a daily basis in every human setting.  

Lest the reader think I’m overstating the problem, note that inhumanity is generally defined as cruelty towards another.  And cruelty in turn is defined as: “behavior that causes physical or mental harm, pain, or suffering.”  Even an unkind remark can be cruel, regardless whether the intention was to inflict pain, although typically that is the case despite protests to the contrary.

Some may condone the idea of a just war between nations and the ensuing cruelties that inevitably result, but cruelty between members of a family, between individuals, or between members of different groups within a civilized nation should not be acceptable.  Why?  Besides the fact that it’s inhumane, such cruelty creates a world full of people with damaged psyches and, with regards to groups, also shreds the fabric of society.  This is unhealthy both for the society and the individual.

Why is cruelty so pervasive?  In two earlier posts, “The Root of All Abuse and Violence - Insecurity,”  and “Insecurity as the Cause of Social Conflict and International War,” I posited that the source of inhumanity lay with the insecurity that virtually all people suffer from, not as a fact of human nature but as a result of learned experience.  Working in concert with this insecurity is the perspective we are taught from an early age that the world is made up of us and them.  Whether the “us” is family, nationality, race, or whatever, we all are taught that this is a basic fact of life (see my post, “The Destructive Impact of Our Us v Them Perspective.”).

Clearly, there is ample evidence on the ground for people to develop an us v them perspective.  And there is ample reason to be insecure.  Indeed, these are both self-perpetuating states.  But if we continue to live according to these perspectives, we are condemned to living in a world of constant conflict and psychological suffering.

But how to stop this when almost everyone in the world is in the grip of these negative forces?  With regard to insecurity, in my book, Raising a Happy Child, I discuss how to stop the vicious cycle of insecure parents raising insecure children, who go on to become insecure parents …  It has to start in the home.  If parents are made aware of the issues and how these forces negatively impact both themselves and their children, I believe that many will choose to adopt the lessons set forth in the book in order to provide themselves and their children a better, happier life.

The same is true regarding the ubiquitous nature of the us v them perspective.  It is learned, just as insecurity is learned.  As the Rodgers and Hammerstein song from South Pacific goes, “You’ve got to be taught, before it’s too late, before you are six or seven or eight, to hate all the people your relatives hate, you’ve got to be carefully taught.”

It is up to us to stop teaching our children to view the world in this way.  In Raising a Happy Child, I posited that parents needed to step outside their insecure selves so that they could provide their children with the nurturing they needed in order to grow up feeling secure, regardless what they experienced in the larger world.  In the same way, parents need to step outside their own us v them perspective so that they can provide their children with a healthier perspective.

Because the us v them perspective has been fostered by virtually all authority forces in society, including and even especially the force of most organized religions, changing this paradigm of human behavior will be perhaps even more of a challenge than raising happy, secure children.  But we must try.  

And don’t say, “I’ll do it if they do it first.”  Because then we are doomed.  Each of you as parents and leaders must do what is right, regardless.  You must have the courage to take the first step.  It will bring you, your children, and your country no harm if you move forward, with eyes wide open.

Luckily, there is a different perspective at hand that would bring about a very different outcome from the conflict that we experience as endemic … that we are all one.  This is not some religious pablum or new age recreational-drug-induced nonsense.   This perspective is based on hard scientific fact.  Yes, it happens to be a major tenet of Buddhism, but I would note that Buddhist thought also foresaw the principles of quantum physics.

Let us begin with humans.  The most widely accepted theory of human evolution is that we all have a common ancestor in a single human in Africa roughly 60,000 - 200,000 years ago.  About 50,000 years ago, man began his migration out of Africa to the various parts of the planet, either replacing or interbreeding with other related species.  And the reset, as they say, is history.

We are thus in fact all one.   We may look different, speak different languages, have different customs, but we are all one in that we all descended from a common ancestor.

Another way of seeing the inherent oneness of us all is the immigration experience.  Not just individuals but waves of people from different cultures and races have moved to a new place, such as the United States.  Their children typically grow up to speak the language of their new home and adopt the culture of their new home.  They still look “different,” but are Americanized and become part of the fabric of our nation.  

If people were inherently different, this would not be possible.  If sometimes they don’t follow this pattern, it’s not because they are incapable of assimilating, it’s because they choose not to; they don’t want to become one. 

A famous quote from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice also makes the point of our oneness, “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”  In all respects we are all one.

“Ah, but this is all irrelevant,” the reader may say.  “If someone is seeking to kill me or steal my possessions, it makes no difference if that person and I are biologically one.”   

True.  But the point is that if both you and that person were taught early on that you were both one and that there was nothing to fear from the other, and you treated each other with respect as equals, this person would most likely not be trying to kill you or steal your possessions.  We must start somewhere to change the historical dynamic.

Let me give a practical example, close to home, of the damage caused by the prevalent us v them perspective and the potential impact if we were taught that we are all one.  150 years after the Civil War, we are still a country deeply divided by race.  Despite all the laws on the books that guarantee equality, and despite the enormous progress made by many African-Americans especially over the last 50 years, there can be no question that we still live in a very unequal and divided society.  Whether one looks at education, housing, jobs, or income, the average black American is far below the average white American.  As a result, our country as a whole has suffered in many ways.

Why has this status continued?  While some responsibility must be taken by black Americans themselves, the overpowering factor is that white America does not view black Americans as one with them.  They may be American citizens, they may fight our wars, they may go to school with us, but they are felt to be different; they are not one with us; they are not equal.  And so the inhumanity of the treatment of black Americans at the hands of white America … collectively … continues.  

If, however, white and black Americans were taught that we are all one, backed up by real changes on the ground … and this is not accomplished simply by integration … this inequality would end within a generation.   Black Americans would then indeed have equal opportunity in education, housing, and  jobs and income equality would improve because both institutional and individual discrimination would end.

In looking at history and current events, as well as our personal experience, one sees that whenever a people/nation, a group, a person, or a member of a family feels that they are not shown respect or treated as an equal, they will in whatever manner they can usually rise up against those who they feel are treating them in this manner.  

Whether looking at the troubles in the Mideast, or the plethora of ethnic, racial, and sectarian conflicts around the world, both past and present, while they are typically viewed as being power struggles … which in one sense they obviously are … they are really about one side, or both, feeling that they have not been treated with respect or as equals.  Those are the real issues; if they had been treated with respect and as equals, there would be no power issues.  Power issues arise from inequality, whether on the part of the victim or those who seek to maintain the status quo.  

When one thinks of the conflict so often found within families, whether between spouses, between parents and children, or between siblings, the feeling of not being treated with respect or as an equal is again the core grievance.  One may talk about sibling rivalry or adolescent rebellion or whatever, but it all comes down to this rather straight-forward analysis.

So we have ample proof of what happens when we do not follow the lesson that we are all one, and instead see the world as us v them.  The benefits I claim for the opposite approach are I must admit only conjectural as the world has not seen a “we are all one” philosophy in place at any time.  But I have no doubt.  

But even if one agrees with my position, one cannot ignore the question of how one gets from where we are to where we want to be.  I noted above that the change needs to start in the home and spread outwards.  I don’t think such change could come top down from the political establishment because any political leader advocating such a policy now would never get elected, or if in office would find himself suddenly without support; the powers that be would be too threatened.  However, it is conceivable that an organization of the major religions united to end the us v them mentality could be formed … an outgrowth, for example, of the Global Freedom Network … which would make a real difference.

Such a change, except within the intimate setting of the family, would involve a transition period that would undoubtedly be tricky and full of obstacles, but if the intention was clear and honest and there was open communication, the world could be a very different place within a generation or less.  A reader might ask, “Doesn’t the failure of the United Nations prove that this type of approach doesn’t work?”  I would respond that the UN has failed, other than getting nations to talk, precisely because its creation did not challenge the underlying assumption of us v them.  There is almost nothing “united” about the United Nations. 

But Planet Earth is not solely the province of man.  Whether one believes in God or the natural force of evolution, Earth is home to a host of animals, plants, and inanimate objects to which the concept that we are all one also applies.  As does the importance of adopting that perspective regarding them in order to create a safer world for our children, for how we treat these other participants of the earth’s ecosystem has profound implications for the future.

Animals are sentient beings, just as man is.  Indeed, it is accepted scientific fact that humans evolved from the animal world, specifically apes.  Animals may not have the brain capacity of man, but they have the same senses as man has.  One could indeed apply the passage quoted above from Shakespeare to animals.  

But what has man done?  Man considers animals as lesser beings, put there by God for humans to eat, and so millions of animals are killed, and not just killed but severely abused in the raising process, to satisfy man’s desires.  Further untold numbers of animals are abused in ways that have nothing to do with the food chain.

"But how," the reader may well ask, "does this make the world less safe for our children?"  The most immediate and practical answer is that the raising of millions upon millions of animals for slaughter requires the diversion of huge amounts of vegetable nutrients to this process.  Since raising animals is a very inefficient use of these nutrients … the amount consumed v the amount produced … the world would have a greater food supply if all vegetable nutrients were available to man.  

As the earth’s population increases, this becomes an ever more pressing issue.  And ending this practice would not harm man in any way as studies show consistently that vegetarians are healthier than meat eaters.

As for plants, they may not be sentient beings, but they are highly-evolved living organisms.  In fact, they are in many ways more highly evolved than man.  Through the process of photosynthesis, they take the elements of sunlight and water and create the nutrients that man and animals need to survive.  And plants are at one with humans because we are all formed from the same basic atomic/molecular structure of matter.

“Are you going to argue now that inanimate objects … rocks, water, oil, air … are also one with man?” a reader may skeptically ask.  That answer is of course, yes.  Again, they are composed of the same basic atomic/molecular structure as man and are part of the evolutionary process that ultimately produced man.  The molecule, composed of atoms, is the common building block from which every thing on this Earth is composed.

As with animals, man has treated plants and inanimate objects as being put there by God for man’s use and benefit.  That is in part true, as everything has an important role to play in the ecosystem.  But how to make such use is the question.  While native cultures, such as Native Americans, killed animals and ate meat, they had a very different relationship to animals, plants, and inanimate objects than modern man.  To them, all were part of a spiritual world and that brought an attitude of respect towards all parts of the eco-system.  Things were used only as needed; nothing was abused.

The results of man’s abuse of the natural world, both plant and mineral, are becoming more abundantly clear with each passing decade.  We have polluted the very source of life … the air and water … and have put in motion a change in the atmosphere which is bringing about a change in climate that has the potential to devastate our way of life and the safe future of our children.

If there is a God, this would certainly be a time for him or her to make itself known to mankind in an unmistakable way and to warn us with all of its power that we must change our ways or be doomed.  Short of that, it depends on us mere mortals to right the wrongs of our abuse of each other and everything else on this Earth and start living by the maxim that we are all one.  We owe it to our children.