Future Present Imperfect

At some point in the future, I hope a significant majority of humankind simultaneously will come to realize the futility of conquest. They will once again understand, as our ancient ancestors probably did, that serenity depends in part on leaving others alone and being left alone.

Not long ago, I read that the dictum live and let live is a “concise idiom of humane mutuality.” It’s such a simple expression of acceptance, non-judgmental tolerance, and—on some fundamental level—respect. The concept has been expressed over the millinnea through philosophy and religion. In what culture is there not a core belief in the idea that we should treat others the way we wish to be treated?

Norman Rockwell, the famous painter, addressed the issue when explaining the idea that prompted him to paint The Golden Rule” a painting depicting a representative tapestry of people who follow all the world’s prominent religions.  Here is what he said about the painting that would become the cover of the April 1, 1961 edition of the Saturday Evening Post:

I’d been reading up on comparative religion. The thing is that all major religions have the Golden Rule in Common. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ Not always the same words but the same meaning.

Conquest, on the other hand, rejects the ways in which others live their lives; it is judgmental, intolerant, and disrespectful. In the U.S., we have molded and shaped and nurtured a culture that is individualistic and materialistic, promoting competition far more than cooperation. Competition is anathema to cooperation; it is central to conquest. Competition rewards judgmental behavior and punishes tolerance of individual and cultural differences. The fact that the U.S. has grown into a superpower explains, in part, how individualism and competition and conquest have spread worldwide; others emulate “strength” when “strength” conveys a sense of power and prestige. Ego usurps the more deserving appreciation of compassion.

If the realization, that conquest is futile, is ever to come to pass, embracing the concepts of “live and let live” and the Golden Rule must occur first for individuals. Individuals, after all, are necessary components of societies and cultures. But it is so much easier to wax philosophical about “humane mutuality” than to practice it. Our own stubborn egos, coupled with fears that we will be at a disadvantage to others who do not embrace it, work against its practice.

Those of us who, like me, speak passionately in support of the Golden Rule (give it whatever name you like) but whose behaviors are at odds with it are, at the core, hypocrites. Apologists for us hypocrites suggest none of us are perfect; all of us are works in progress.  I wonder, then, will the work ever be done? Or will we use that convenient excuse to justify our perpetual failings? Do you see what I did with the words I just wrote? I abandoned the Golden Rule and its “live and let live” corollary in favor of using words as cudgels, attempting to beat and shame into submission people, including myself, who do not behave as I say they should.

Circular reasoning with an unhealthy dose of judgment and intolerance. I began by saying humankind “will once again understand, as our ancient ancestors probably did, that serenity depends in part on leaving others alone and being left alone.” I wonder, will that ever come to pass?

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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