This essay is an attempt to express some of the thoughts arising in connection with the last of the six triangles forming the 'iris of the eye' in our Temple model. Its main purpose is to suggest that mastery of life begins with accepting personal responsibility for achieving and maintaining a proper balance between Love and fear in all our earthly activities and for rendering unselfish service at all levels in our communities and societies.
In what follows, I shall frequently refer to the idea of communityby which I mean a body of people in social relationship and aware of having something in common. I make an arbitrary distinction between community and society, which I take to mean any number of people associated together to pursue collective interests. Thus while a society is held together by its purpose, whatever that may be, a community need have no set purpose. It may arise from any number of causes such as geographical proximity, a common interest in philosophy, a mutual aversion to some regulation, or being passengers in a public service vehicle. Persons may join or leave a community at random, accidentally or deliberately. The essential characteristic of a community is some degree of mutual awareness.
This implies that if a community grows too diverse to be comprehensible by its members, it must either fragment or form itself into a society.
There is a sense in which the entire population of Spaceship Earth constitutes a community: but it is clearly too numerous, diverse and complicated for any mere person to comprehend fully. Hence various forms of social organisation have developed in an attempt to enable subsets of the global community to pursue their group interests without unduly infringing the liberties of other groups. A state is an autonomous political organism or a partly autonomous member of a political federation. A nation is a body of people commonly recognised as an entity either by virtue of their historical, linguistic or ethnic links or by being united under a particular political organisation and usually occupying a defined territory. Polity is a name given to the form or constitution of a nation, state, or society.
For our purposes, we may define balance to mean the maintenance of dynamic but harmonious equilibrium in the lives of persons and communities of persons. Equilibrium must be dynamic because Life is a process involving continual change and individual persons have different needs and desires which must be satisfied in different ways. Equilibrium must be harmonious if the persons who contribute to it are fully to enjoy the results of their own efforts and those of their communal associates. So balance implies toleration of the widest possible range of personal activities while avoiding extremes of behaviour which could result in the catastrophic failure of any or all of the life-sustaining systems which together constitute the economy of community life.
It may therefore be appropriate to begin by summarising the hypotheses about the economy of life which have already been suggested, explicitly or implicitly, in other essays in this series.
The person is essentially an immortal Spirit temporarily inhabiting a mortal body.
The immortal Spirit in every person is One and the Same.
The body is a vehicle or instrument which enables the person to interact with other persons and the rest of the material world.
The Spiritual experience of living in a distinct individual body makes each person unique.
Personal freedom consists in being able to form an intention and take action to realise that intention within the constraints imposed by natural law.
Personal life is a continual balancing act which may be represented as a struggle between Love and fear.
Love is the desire of the Spirit to realise the Oneness between the Self and the All.
Fear results from the instinctive desire of the body to maintain its separate identity and keep itself in good operational condition for independent action.
The struggle between Love and fear is played out in the 'personality', that amalgam of Spirit and body whose chief property seems to be mind.
Mind is the seat of consciousness, thought, feeling, and will.
This analysis suggests that the human personality is a complex entity whose individual character and integrity depends upon achieving a satisfactory balance among all these factors, and particularly between the Spirit and the body which serves the Spirit in the world.
The above hypotheses arise chiefly from consideration of the individual personality. It follows from them that the person is the quantum of responsible action. Responsibility implies recognition of the fact that, from the Spiritual point of view, all persons are essentially one and the same. So we must now consider the relevance of these ideas to the wider sphere of the inter-personal relationships which inevitably arise whenever the person acts overtly in ways which affect other persons.
I have suggested in Love and Friendship that friendship between two persons may be the highest possible human expression of Love. In any case, it seems obvious that the pair of persons is the irreducible quantum of friendship. In a fully friendly relationship, two persons not only share whatever qualities they have in common but also complement each other and thus make each other in some sense more complete. Every close friendship helps both persons to realise their essential Oneness with the All.
Going on from there, it is possible for every person to entertain the idea that every other person in the world is a potential friend. It also seems reasonable to consider all social interaction as the aggregate of relationships between person-pairs. So would it not contribute to harmony, peace and joy in the world if every person set out with the intention of being friendly towards everybody else?
Hence, I suggest that for the person to live responsibly is to maintain the intention to act in a friendly manner with respect to the rest of creation.
Every person experiences a tension between the needs and desires of the Spirit (which is common to all) and the needs and desires of the body (which is unique to the individual).
It is this eternal struggle to balance the urges of the flesh and the aspirations of the Spirit that gives rise to conflict, both within the individual personality and between persons. Other essays in this series deal with various aspects of the interior struggle. The remainder of this essay will therefore focus on inter-personal relationships in an attempt to identify how the responsible person may, in concert with others, be able to minimise occasions for conflict in any community to which the person belongs and also reduce the severity of any conflict that may arise. This will, I hope, provide a sound Spiritual basis for further essays on matters arising in the everyday World.
Conflict can and does arise out of natural resistance to naked aggression, i.e. any attempt on the part of any person or group to pursue primarily selfish ends regardless of any adverse effects on the interests of other persons or groups. The responsible person will therefore take care never to take an aggressive initiative.
However, conflict may also have less obvious, and therefore more insidious, origins in intemperate responses to real or imagined provocation which may be inadvertent.
Words which are commonly used in connection with provocation include interference, intrusion, intervention and invasion.
To interfere is to take an active, but unwelcome, part in the activity of another person or group.
To intrude is to thrust or force something in an unwelcome way upon another person or group.
To intervene is to impose oneself as a third party in the activity of another person or group, usually in order to protect personal or wider interests. Intervention by a third party may be requested by the principal parties to a transaction, commonly in the event of a disagreement between them: mediation and arbitration are examples of such intervention.
To invade is to forcibly occupy the space or ground already lawfully and properly occupied by another person or group.
The responsible person can usually avoid provoking others by refraining from interfering with, intruding upon, or invading the privacy of other persons as they go about their naturally lawful occasions unless and until invited to intervene or participate in these occasions. Busybodies are commonly resented in all walks of life.
Of the four possible causes of provocation, it seems to me that only intervention is justifiable within a community or society. Intervention may be justified to safeguard the interests of all the members if these are threatened by aggressive acts of self-interest on the part of a minority of the members. It is therefore natural for every community that survives for any length of time to seek to distil out of communal experience a set of rules which serve to define and, by common consent, to prohibit, certain types of behaviour which are considered damaging to the interests of the community as a whole. When such rules have been formulated, the community may be said to have developed into a society, one of whose aims is preserving its own identity. The leaders, elders, or office-bearers of the society may then intervene to discipline a malefactor using whatever communally sanctioned expedients are deemed most appropriate to the nature of the offence. They may also establish some form of police organisation with specific powers to intervene in certain circumstances to moderate activities which are commonly agreed to be prejudicial to the welfare of the community.
Invasion is intervention by one society in the affairs of another, usually on the pretext that some aspect of its collective activity is in some way threatening the interests of the invading society. As invasion is virtually certain to be strongly resisted by some, if not all, the members of the community being invaded, it should be considered only as a last resort when reason has proved ineffectual and invasion is reasonably likely to be the lesser of two evils.
The members entrusted with the government of a society normally have a duty to maintain some capability to defend its interests if and when these come under aggressive attack. This can mean war: and if it does, justice must be deemed to be on the side of the defender; violent aggression is never justified.
If harmonious dynamic equilibrium is to be maintained throughout a community, it is necessary for every member of that community to be responsible. But it is obvious that not all persons in the world are responsible: hence the need for social constraints upon irresponsible activity. However, it is highly desirable that such constraints should be kept to a minimum. Responsibility must be learned: and it can be learned only by a personal process of trial and error.
Natural law permits the maximum freedom for personal action. It is only by acting in conflict with natural law and accepting the natural consequences of his action that the individual learns what is naturally permitted and what is not. It may be a painful process: and the slower learner is liable to experience more pain for longer. Nature is very permissive and tolerant of error, but is also consistent in responding to any cause with the appropriate effect. Thus putting a hand too close to a fire results in a burn; drinking too much alcohol results in a hangover; leaping over a cliff results in a fall; and breaking one's own window results in exposure to the weather. So it is difficult to find any reasonable justification for seeking to restrict what any individual person may do as long as she harms nobody and nothing but herself. It is even more difficult to think of any reasonable justification for attempting to compel persons, individually or collectively, to do anything they don't want to do. Doing nothing may not be very helpful to anyone: but it is hard to imagine how it can do any definite harm to any third party.
However, much human learning takes place in communities in which the clumsy or irresponsible actions of one person may harm other persons as well as personal or communal property. It may therefore be necessary to superimpose social laws on natural ones in order to restrain extreme types of behaviour which threaten the stability and assets of the society or otherwise provoke conflict. There is clearly a need for some system of mutually consistent guidelines and sanctions so that members of the society may learn to become responsible within the constraints of that society. But it seems obvious that for a society to impose restrictions which remove all scope for personal initiative would make it impossible for any member of that society to learn to become responsible. Therefore the system adopted must strike a balance between libertinism and authoritarianism: and it seems to be a law of nature that maximum liberty is necessary for the achievement of maximum personal responsibility.
Hence it seems to me that if the government of a society, on whatever scale, were entrusted to truly responsible people, the rules of that society would be framed with only three objectives:
The governments of societies should content themselves with providing a framework within which responsible citizens are free to look after themselves and their friends and relations as they think fit. Defence and police forces apart, Governments should refrain from setting themselves up as providers of social services which have to be paid for by compulsory taxation. Because governments are set up to govern (i.e., to preserve natural balances within the governed society) and not to trade, 'services' supplied by government are inevitably and notoriously inefficient. Worse than that, the existence of large-scale government service operations, even when they are not monopolies, curtails opportunity for responsible activity on the part of the individual members of the society.
All laws which merely seek to 'protect people from themselves' show a lack of respect for individual responsibility and are ultimately self-defeating. The Spirit of mankind will not tamely submit to unduly repressive regulation and it will resent coercion. Members of society will provide learning opportunities for themselves whether lawfully or otherwise. Burdensome and intrusive regulation therefore presents more of a threat to the stability and harmony of a society than any misbehaviour on the part of a minority of its members. History provides plenty of illustrations that reaction against the dead hand of authoritarian uniformity sooner or later leads to violent anarchy. So it behoves persons in positions of authority to act responsibly themselves and to exercise their authority with discretion, moderation and humility.
It is an inescapable fact that learning opportunities arise amid the minutiae of everyday life and are infinitely variable depending on innumerable factors beyond the comprehension of any limited human being. It therefore seems eminently sensible to permit local communities to frame their own by-laws to deal appropriately with any problems that arise in the circumstances peculiar to that community. No remote legislator, no matter how erudite or imaginative, can possibly be so intimately acquainted with the details of any incident as the person on the spot. So the remote legislator would do well to concentrate on broad principles and keep prescriptive legislation to the irreducible minimum comprehensible to all members of the society, and so encourage the development of maximum personal responsibility and communal discretion throughout the society.
When the shelves of law libraries are groaning under the weight of so many rules and regulations that no individual can even read them in one lifetime, one cannot help but wonder whether societies might not be better served by less government rather than more.
I suggest to the elders of all societies everywhere that they be humble enough to accept their own fallibility and adopt the minimum legislative framework consistent with inculcating the principle of The Golden Rule: 'Do not act towards others as you would not have them act towards you'. This 'negative' expression of the rule is preferred to the 'positive' because individuals do not always share the same preferences and, when people differ, respect for personal responsibility requires inaction rather than possibly mistaken action. The question "How would you feel if somebody did that to you?" has a spiritually powerful appeal to genuine morality; if the members of a community could be educated into the habitual application of the question to their own intentions, it would go a long way towards the maintenance of harmony within the community. Responsible legislation should aim at empowerment, not enslavement.
Punishment is not synonymous with revenge or retaliation: indeed it is almost the opposite. Punishment is the infliction of physical or psychological pain to teach compassion by reflecting back upon the miscreant some conception of the pain inflicted on others by his or her irresponsible action. Punishment aims at correction: and the type of punishment inflicted should therefore bear some reasonable and obvious relationship to the crime and the circumstances in which the crime was committed. Nature sets a good example which mankind would do well to imitate. Like well-maintained fences, rapid and appropriate punishments promote good neighbourliness and minimise occasions for provocation.
It is for consideration, therefore, that powers of determining and inflicting punishment should be vested as far as possible in the responsible members of the community most immediately and seriously affected by the crime and who are therefore best placed to determine what punishment might best serve to teach the miscreant a lesson. Perhaps local juries should have the power to propose punishments they deem appropriate in the circumstances of each individual case.
It is common experience that a higher law overcomes a lower one. It would therefore clearly be helpful if social laws did not conflict with natural law, but merely elaborated certain aspects of natural law deemed particularly important in the society in question. Man-made laws are merely petty regulations in comparison with natural laws. They are needed only to preserve the coherence of a society until the members of the society have learned the natural Spiritual laws and how to live within them. It should never be forgotten that freedom is the exercise of personal responsibility. The Golden Rule should therefore apply particularly to the acts of legislators. Responsible legislation and punishment must consequently be grounded in a sound fundamental psychology.
Human experience down the ages has led to the identification of certain qualities called virtues which tend to maintain dynamic equilibrium and other characteristics called vices which tend to produce dynamic instability. Previous generations have described four cardinal virtues temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice all of which refer to balancing the creative tension between Spirit and body.
Temperance moderates desires and passions so as to keep them within reasonable bounds.
Fortitude is moral courage which maintains endurance in the face of pain or adversity, even when the body is weary, wounded or diseased.
Prudence is the virtue which balances the bodily instinct to avoid danger and Spiritual willingness to take physical or psychological risks in pursuit of an ideal.
Justice is the quality of fairness, impartiality and moral rightness in action, ensuring as far as possible that the activities in which the person engages do no damage to the interests of other persons.
All these virtues are clearly qualities which inhere primarily in the Spirit rather than in the flesh. They confer the ability to govern and discipline the personality by the use of reason, and thus enable the individual person to transform his or her own character. The responsible person exhibits these characteristics in a high degree.
Undisciplined desires and passions are vices. The chief vices, sometimes referred to as the 'seven deadly sins', are pride, covetousness, lust, gluttony, anger, envy, and sloth. The responsible person seeks to eliminate such traits from his or her repertoire with consequent beneficial effects on mind and body.
Pride is excessive self-esteem.
Covetousness is a strong desire to possess something which properly belongs to another person.
Lust is any unbridled passionate desire. It may refer to a strong sexual desire without concern for the feelings of the other person involved, or to a desire for power or control over the activities of other persons in general.
Gluttony is excessive eating and drinking.
Anger is rage or passionate displeasure.
Envy is an emotion of antagonism to another person arising out of covetousness for some real or imagined good which that person seems to enjoy.
Sloth is laziness arising from Spiritual apathy.
Whilst all vices arise from the flesh, they infect the Spirit and thus 'lower the tone' of the personality as a whole. It seems to me that lust, anger and envy (which are directed outwards and are therefore liable to harm other people) are more heinous than covetousness, gluttony and sloth which are more harmful to the self than to other people.
However, for sheer 'viciousness', pride takes pride of place because it not only corrodes the personal spirit but also causes the proud person to assume an unwarranted superiority over, and contempt for, other persons. This exaggerates the lust for power and leads to bullying in private and dictatorship in public life. The tendency for persons who exhibit traits of excessive self-esteem to find their way into some level of government is Nature's way of ensuring continuous social dynamism. The lesson it teaches is that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.
It is natural to react to provocation. However, persons who are persuaded of the truth of the principle that all persons are essentially One and the Same will endeavour to discipline themselves so that their reactions may take forms which are appropriate to the circumstances. I suggest that this implies avoidance of retaliation, i.e. fighting force with force, which may be effective in a material sense but which can never lead to recognition that the original provocation may have been unjust. Without this recognition, the conflict is more than likely to break out again.
However, it must always be morally, if not legally, permissible to resist coercion by reasoned argument and, if necessary, by refusing to comply with laws or instructions which unduly restrict the exercise of personal responsibility.
The old adage that 'prevention is better than cure' has wide application. Spiritually directed persons will have no difficulty in acknowledging that moderation implies consideration for the concerns and feelings of other persons so as to avoid giving offence. Nevertheless, present-day custom and practice seems to rely largely on the assumption that might is right, and that all desires are legitimate if one has the power to realise them regardless of any consequences for third parties or the community in which they are realised. However, adopting such a philosophy inevitably gives rise to resistance and conflict. If the resistance is offered by persons who share the same general materialistic philosophy but have different desires, the conflict may, and sometimes does, result in acts of cruelty and destruction inconceivable by all but the imaginations of the most depraved human beings.
Thus naked aggression and immoderate retaliation can only result in destruction of the sought-for benefit and much else besides.
Just as it is only the Spirit that can keep the whole person hopeful and energetically active in the face of adversity, so it is only the Spirit that can maintain the kindly light of reason in the face of provocation. And it is only the Spirit that can reduce the occasions for provocation by being mindful of the concerns and interests of other people, voluntarily limiting one's desires to those appropriate for one's legitimate aspirations and refraining from pursuing one's desires by inappropriate means.
I assume that harmonious equilibrium will be self-sustaining in any community which consists entirely of responsible persons. If this is accepted, it follows that one of the principal aims of education in a society should be to develop a sense of personal responsibility, seeking to foster virtues and eliminate vices.
Life is presented to our consciousness as a continuous succession of choices. I therefore make the further assumption that it is only through the exercise of personal freedom that individuals can learn to choose between actions which are naturally or socially lawful and those which are not.
Inculcation of the Golden Rule should, I suggest, be the primary object of education. Emphasis should be placed on knowing and understanding the cardinal virtues and learning social graces; this could and should be done without reference to any particular religion because, in this respect, all religions worth the name agree with each other.
The important role of organised games, particularly team games, should not be overlooked. Games not only promote physical and mental health: they also give the participants opportunities to display any vices which may not be detectable in the classroom and to 'punish' each other's vices in a close approximation to a natural environment. Games are thus a potent and efficient means of teaching and reinforcing the cardinal virtues by multiplying the occasions for exercising responsible choice in action.
Treating education as if it were merely a preparation for a competitive materialistic career is a disservice to the young. Inculcation of a sense of personal responsibility and the development of compassionate social skills is far more important. Given those, individuals will of their own initiative acquire whatever practical training they need to progress in their chosen occupations. The fruits of a successful education system would be harmonious communities in which the desires of their members are fully satisfied without conflict while preserving the maximum degree of personal freedom.
To preserve a dynamic balance in the global community of Mother Earth, it seems to me essential to take our cue from Nature Herself.
The individual person is the only competent unit of human responsibility. Hence, it should be obvious that the affairs of any community or society are most likely to prosper the more enthusiastically its individual members voluntarily participate in its natural activities. No individual has a monopoly in wisdom or energy; every individual has something to contribute. It follows that any rules which may be necessary for governing the operation of any society should be framed to preserve the integrity of the society while permitting the maximum possible autonomy for constituent members, sub-groups and communities. Such sub-groups should themselves permit the maximum possible freedom for the exercise of personal responsibility. Arbitrary authoritarian regulations which merely stifle individual initiative and foster irresponsibility should be avoided like the plague they are.
Responsible government must win and retain the trust of the people it purports to serve. It will do this only if it trusts the people. All the people are individual persons who should be assumed to be responsible unless and until they have demonstrated by their actions that they are not. Individual irresponsibility is best dealt with on a case-by-case basis by responsible people as near to the spot as possible. Higher levels of government should be involved only when several communities or social groups cannot amicably resolve their mutual problems.
In short, any tendency to centralisation of government and the consequent proliferation of authoritarian bureaucracy should be resisted. Power to determine their own lifestyles should be left with individual persons. Higher (i.e. more far-reaching but less prescriptive) powers should be allocated progressively from below to whatever social groups intervene between the individual and the highest Earthly level of government instead of being 'delegated' downwards from whatever authority may have usurped them.