The 21 Step Civilization Improvement Program
This is a weighty topic and one I would not presume to address on an academic level, but I would like to pass along some valuable lessons wise mentors exemplified in their writings and lives. Perhaps they can be added to your ideas and we all will benefit.
Let us start here at home with the recent Occupy Wall Street phenomena as an example. This group behaved very politely in the beginning, particularly to one another. I would count that as evidence of civilized behavior. However, that began to slip and many began boorishly accosting people who were merely trying to get to work, trashing other people's property, overtaking and leaving debris and filth within the semi-public property where they were camping, and later, breaking and entering and disrupting businesses, and being destructive of those properties. Did their bad behavior warrant the overreaction of the police? I think not. Did the overreaction of the police escalate the bad behavior of the protestors? I think so. Is there a lesson here? I hope so.
Then let us look at Greece. What has behavior in the “Cradle of Civilization” been like lately? I fear it is not too civilized. Other peoples’ rights and safety and property are being annihilated in a very aggressive manner. The Greeks, as intelligent as they always have been from ancient times, cannot understand that wealth must be created. They deny the reality that goods do not just appear out of nowhere to be distributed. There is no longer a basis for voluntary exchange and all are now suffering from that lack. What is the lesson from Greece?
Far worse, if we want to talk about a depressing subject, turn to some of the Middle Eastern countries much in the news, and the behavior of the ruling dictators and their henchmen. Indiscriminate killing is far from civilized behavior. It is natural for “us” to feel superior, but some of our activities with drones have also resulted in killing innocents who are caught in the middle and for whom there is no escape. It is equally difficult to survive and protect your children from an indiscriminate rocket at your apartment building by your nation’s despot as it is to have a defense from a high tech drone. It is particularly difficult for parents, desperately pushing a wheelbarrow with small children in it, on a dirt road. Are the problems going to be resolved with economic sanctions or all out war? Has either ever resolved problems? Many wise people are increasingly questioning that assumption.
It becomes depressing and frustrating for sincere people who want to be a part of the solution. It is important, however that we accept the basic truth that we truly can do only one thing to change the world. There is only one action we can take to raise the level of civilization. I was told this when I was very young, however, it took me many years to really accept the truth of this admonition.
What is that one thing we know we can do to affect change? Quite simply set the very best example we, as an individual, possibly can. For each of us to act responsibly, thoughtfully, politely, respectfully, and treat others as we would like to be treated. How original! I think we all have heard and read this somewhere before. In fact, "several somewheres” and many times. So, to preserve and enhance “civilization” it truly does coalesce into self-governing. Each of us as an individual resisting the urge to force other people to do what we think they should and instead set the best example we can of good behavior. This is the one thing we can do to further a civilization. Forget the false idea of “society” doing anything. There is no such thing. There are only individuals that interact with one another. How each individual behaves is what determines the positive or negative direction of civilization.
Some interesting studies have emerged that offer great encouragement. We all know of the deeply disturbing study conducted by Stanley Milgram which seemed to prove that people, when given orders to inflict pain on an unseen person in another room, were willing to inflict increasing amounts of pain just because they were given instructions to do so. The psychologists, as well as lay people reading the results, were aghast. However, a more important finding has emerged. A more recent study found when one single person, when ordered to shock the unseen victim, said “No” and stood by his decision, others followed. At that display of morality the other administrators of pain then took courage and refused to comply with the order to torture. Does this information encourage you as it does me? It means, simply, that when each of us demands the best of our selves, we can influence others for the good.
Here are what I consider some of the important ideas I learned from wise parents and many mentors that support civilized actions:
- Civilized people do not murder, rape, steal and lie, but less obvious is not giving support to that action in others, particularly those who hold political power.
- A moral person may be trapped by laws and even the threat of imprisonment, but one can speak out (so far) and protest uncivilized policies.
- Recognize the worth and unique value of each individual.
- Do not pass along or laugh at jokes that condone bad ideas or spread gossip and rumors.
- Recognize that distributing public largess is actually theft and do not encourage it.
- If you are the recipient of charity, pay it back as soon as possible, even if not monetarily.
- Give no encouragement to people who are using intimidation and fear to force their ideas on others.
- Call out people, politely if possible, who speak in half truths, stretch the truth or overstate their case.
- People or groups who use stereotypes to make their case are perpetuating injustice; avoid them.
- Be wary of people who ask you to turn over your decision making responsibilities to them.
- Be suspicious of people who brag about their altruism and religiosity.
- Be extra cautious when people's ideas need the force of government rules in order to succeed.
- Analyze carefully the unintended consequences of what people propose to do politically and what the impact might be if their ideas are implemented.
- Using government force to resolve problems does not work, and piling on only creates more problems.
- Seek out and practice voluntary solutions and exchanges.
- Ask yourself if the person claiming they need to be in charge seems to be too eager to be “in charge.”
- If you vote, do not vote to take away self-regulation of others.
- Never vote for policies that will steal from one group to give to another group.
- Do not give away your vote lightly as your vote is a statement of your values, not your betting expertise.
- If you vote, take the act seriously. You are not betting on the winner of a football game, but giving power.
- Always remember, power is more addictive than any drug known to mankind.
We can always look for and follow the thread of ideas and behaviors that support civilized behavior. At the center of civilization we discover it is not as much an economic or political problem, but rather philosophical. Sages through out history and in many cultures and philosophies have observed and taught that merely setting a positive example is highly desirable and seems to have a large influence on other people's behavior. Realizing this is actually a great relief. The actions that will encourage civilization will, at the same time, enhance our own lives. It is not some “mysterious secret” but rather each of us taking responsibility for our own actions. Not easy, but well within the realm of the possible for us all as we strive to live those very values which exemplify civilized behavior.