So far in this series we have looked at two of the great questions, “who am I?” and “why am I here?” I have drawn on the Christian holy book to provide those answers, focusing especially on Psalms 82, arguably one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible. Ye are gods, and you are here to act as preservers and protectors of the earth. That seems pretty simple. The final question I want to look at is one of the most widely explored questions globally. Every government and every religion seems to focus on it. Every song and every story seems to touch upon it. “How am I to treat others?”
Some may question why I am including this question among the so called great questions I am exploring. To be fair, my musings often fly in the face of conventional thought and practice, anyway. Honestly, though, I have little concern with convention as that what has gotten us to this place with all of the angst, turmoil, confusion, and suffering which seem endemic to conventional life. I refuse to accept that we are sent here to suffer and die and hope for paradise thereafter, or an end to the cycle of suffering in some future life.
The question, “how am I to treat others?” then, is no longer an external question of interaction between the self and the illusory that we perceive as reality, but an intrinsic question of highest import in which the ‘I’ takes hold of the ‘why’ and chooses how to ‘be’ in our daily interactions with the world, be it real or illusory. It is this question then, which forces the evolution or devolution of the soul. This question dictates how we go about designing our spiritual journey at the most fundamental level and is involved in literally every decision we make. At the most basic level, “how am I to treat others?” is really a much deeper question, which is more appropriately stated as “how am I to be?”
So much has been written and spoken on this subject that it seems redundant to say it again, but everywhere we look we see that the message has been seemingly lost in a cacophany of voices, directives, and regulations. We have commandments, laws, treatises, civil codes, self-help books, psychology, sociology, religious doctrines and dogmas, and still we see the growth of hatred, xenophobia, bigotry, abuse, behavioral disorders, personality disorders, aberrant behaviors, and violence in every corner of our world. Why?
The simplest message, the lesson we should have learned in kindergarten, seems to be one of the hardest rules to live by. Love your neighbor as yourself. It is a sad truth that in our electronic age, we eschew our neighbors for the voices we feel we can relate to online to the point that many times we know nothing of the people who live next door. How then can we feel that we love our neighbors as ourselves? In point of fact, this primary directive is a two sided directive. Love your neighbor as yourself means also love yourself as your neighbor.
The sad truth is that we are conditioned to hate ourselves. We are never beautiful enough, rich enough, worthy enough to truly be loved. We are conditioned to see flaws rather than strengths, to see mistakes as critiques of imperfections rather than opportunities for growth, and needs as weaknesses. We are taught methods of self-avoidance, self-repression, and self-denigration and are shocked when we see these strategies fail or turn us into the monsters we fear the most. We are taught that arbitrary words with no useful definitions, such as good and evil, right and wrong, successful and unsuccessful, are the words by which we should define the world we live in, and ourselves, and wonder why we still don’t grasp these concepts as we lie dying.
We are divine apparitions. When we push aside our conditioned self-hatred, fears, and consumerism, we begin to see the things that are truly important. Are toxin laden tar-sands really more important than cool, clear lakes of drinkable water? Do gadgets have more worth than the time spent with your children? What do we teach through our actions?
Besides just avoiding and not providing negative reinforcement to the school yard bullies that corporations have become, we must also act as the benefactors and keepers of the less fortunate, who are also part of creation. Why, in the richest nation on earth, in a Christian nation no less, to children starve, live homeless, and die for lack of medical care? It is because, in the church of consumerism, being a good Christian is hording wealth and consuming products; turning a blind eye to the misery that lives next door, or down the street, or on the other side of the world. The world we were charged to protect.
When we begin trying to save the world around us, a little bit each day, we change who we are and the creatures we are becoming. Try to imagine the life of Mother Theresa or Gandhi after a decade of trying to save the world a lit bit at a time as part of their daily life. Imagine an entire globe of them. Imagine yourself as one of those truly good-hearted people who chose to spend their efforts working for the needs of others, rather than their own wants.
I think the great teacher Einstein said it best when he said, “the world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” Go out and do something. Do something smart. Do something stupid. Do something, anything, besides what you are doing. You’ve already done that. And be nice.