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Human decency is a highway of 5 lanes

Updated on June 8, 2015
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Education for perpetrators and intended victims

Have you read those social media biography briefs that ask, for example, “why do you like this city?” or “how do you spend your time off?” or something on those lines. Then, on a more serious note, the question is “what is your goal or passion in life?” May be you have seen answers like, “my passion is to raise my children to be decent human beings”.

May be you are wondering – as I do - what exactly does it mean to be a decent human being?

Most people desire to be seen as decent human beings. We would be shocked if someone told us, “my passion is to be a human trafficker”, or “my goal in life is to raise my children to be good at using other people to their advantage” (even though every society has plenty of those). It is in every human soul to desire to be decent. It is a matter of the soul, first and foremost.

Unfortunately, as long as we continue to live out the personality, those desires will remain just that: aspirations. Worse still what comes out in the personality is often contradictory to the soul’s desire. In other words the desire to be decent does not quite show in deeds. That is why it is easy to want to be “seen as” than “to be”. And upon examination, many who desire to be – without connecting with the soul – may sometimes find themselves causing pain and anguish to others. When people make false promises for example, their intention may still be the desire to be seen as decent.

Being decent is a state of “being”; being and doing are quite different. Being seen is a matter of personality. Considerations of personality, such as “influential leader or politician”, “award-winning photographer”, “good salesman” and so on have material gain for driver. That is why, more often than not, we read in those biographies, things like “desire to raise my children to be decent human beings”. There is hesitancy or even lack of courage to claim the virtue for oneself.

There was a proposal in the previous post to embark on education for perpetrators of exploitation and those they seek to exploit. True liberation occurs when the predator and the prey are set free. We will continue to set out the avenues for this process of educating, which needs to be ongoing, but the first step though is to not be silent. Edmund Burke – and many others after him – aptly pointed out: “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing”.

So, we begin with an examination of what constitutes human decency. Let us consider 5 qualities:

1. Honesty: When Jesus saw Nathanael in the Gospel of John 1:47, he remarked: “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit”. In older English the word guile is used for deceit. That means without self-deception or the disposition to deceive others. You can look into the eye of a decent human being and they will feel free, knowing themselves and not taking cover under any devices or some structures.

2. Integrity: Integrity can be defined from very general terms as strong moral and ethical principles, or more generally as fairness or impartiality. Cornel West defines integrity as “being faithful to something greater than oneself”. We will look at faithfulness in a little while, but whenever you hear an excuse like, “Our policy is so and so”, or “we have a policy so and so”, then a bell ought to ring: Integrity! (I mean lack of it). A decent human being rises above the cover of policy whereas statements like that shield one from taking responsibility, and even more importantly, a risk. Indeed another sign of lack of integrity is inability to accept error – in judgement, action or word and even going so far as to blame those victimized. You have heard how paparazzi blame their victims’ fame or celebrity status to justify their unwanted actions.

3. Compassion: Compassion is a compound word meaning “suffering with” – or, if you don’t like the word suffering – “feeling with”. Remember the commentator in the previous post who remarked, “perhaps if the photographer considers the exact same situation but with a member of their own family in place”. That is compassion. Indeed, compassion is greater than oneself, reaching to embrace human dignity and human liberty, as JFK put it: “I believe in human dignity as the source of national purpose, human liberty as the source of national action, the human heart as the source of national compassion, and in the human mind as the source of our invention and our ideas”. Where compassion is lacking there is no human decency.

4. Kindness: Mark Twain said, “Kindness is a language the deaf can hear and the blind can see”. This is the best illustration of a state of being because there is no room for acting or putting on a face. There is kindness in the human soul from where it can shape personality, but not the other way round.

5. Goodness: Mikhail Bakunin – whether you agree with his philosophy in general or not (perhaps because he is the father of anarchism?) - said: “Freedom, morality, and the human dignity of the individual consists precisely in this; that they do good not because they are forced to do so, but because they freely conceive it, want it and love it”. Again, we see the emphasis on freewill which proceeds from the soul and not imposed on the surface, and the connection with human dignity or decency.

If everyone would place these 5 measures in every interaction with others, we would have a strong foundation for promoting human decency and creating a happy society free of exploitation and abuse by those in a position to do so. Let us remember, liberation is complete when all – predator and prey – are liberated. An abuser is as much a victim – of a mindset – as the abused.


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