Diagnosis should precede prescription and intervention. Therefore, we first have to understand the nature and problems of humanity before we can intercede effectively.
Joseph Stalin was convinced that humanity’s problems did not lie within but without. Consequently, his prescription was to change the environment—the State and its economy. He said:
“Whatever is the mode of production of a society, such in the main is the society itself, its ideas, and theories, its political views and institutions. Or, to put it more crudely, whatever is man’s manner of life, such is his manner of thought.”
For Stalin, a change in the “manner of life,” namely, a change in the economic and political institutions, would greatly improve the human condition.
Other utopian schemes rely upon the removal of the repressive or capitalistic elements. The Occupy Wall Street movement seemed to suggest that if we could simply remove the capitalist oppressors—the top one percent—we could have a better world. Such thinking is predicated on the idea that if the bad guys are removed, the good guys will naturally thrive and create a benign society.
Why? Because the great majority of people are naturally compassionate and other-centered, but they have been oppressed by those who are selfish. By this line of thinking, all the masses need to do is grow in awareness and self-trust.
According to New Age guru, Shakti Gawain, we have failed to learn how to trust in ourselves:
“When we consistently suppress and distrust our intuitive knowingness, looking instead for external authority, validation, and the approval of others, we give our personal power away…Every time you don’t trust yourself and don’t follow your inner truth, you decrease your aliveness and your body will reflect this with a loss of vitality, numbness, pain, and eventually physical disease.”
How then do we learn how to trust in ourselves?
We need to be empowered. How? According to some, by learning how to relate to one another!
I recently attended a workshop given by THEDIALOGUEPROJECT.ORG for highschool youth. We were all directed to write the names of three people in the group whom we admired, and what we admired about them. Then, we broke up into pairs and one had to recite the admirable qualities we noticed to the other as the other listened attentively. Then, the other person related back to the first what they understood the presenter to be saying. Finally, we had to process what we felt about the experience of being understood.
This proved to be an easy way to generate human connectedness. I had attended one of their talks before. While I do think that there is a place for these kinds of exercises, they wrongly convey the idea that if we simply learn how to affirm others, those others will in turn reciprocate and the world will be a better place. If we could simply learn the skills of affirmation, we would empower both ourselves and others. Consequently, we would no longer need police or soldiers.
This, of course, is predicated on a positive diagnosis of the human condition, a condition that presupposes that we all naturally want to affiliate, creating a win-win situation for all.
Similarly, many college students believe that love will conquer all, even hate. We just have to learn how to love. These students are convinced that if we had known better how to love, then Hitler, Stalin, and Mao would never have embarked on their genocidal rampages.
How do we love? Well, one way is through affirming conversations. I recently talked with a group of young communists at Columbia University in a conversation I hoped would be affirmative. I began by asking them about their hopes. They answered, “Revolution.” Light-heartedly—at least at first—I probed: “Well certainly, you are not advocating violent revolution?” They were; but they assured me that their revolt would kill a mere 1 percent of the population.
Again, I probed: “In light of the failed communist experiments of the twentieth century, what hope do you have that yours will be successful?”
They explained that they now had an enlightened Thinker/Leader who would not repeat the mistakes of former Marxist revolutions. Meanwhile, I was wondering if, rightly applied, love could persuade their enlightened Leader to lay aside his sickle in favor of tulips.
Meanwhile, my young, idealistic communist comrades assured me that love for humanity required them to strike a quick, relatively painless and antiseptic blow against the controlling elites.
I wondered about what was motivating them. Whatever it was—anger, jealousy, or self-righteous idealism—it seemed to be more decisive than all the love that I could muster through my affirmative attentiveness and understanding of their concerns.
These students are human beings with the same feelings and needs that I have, but yet, they are also our future murderers—instruments of genocide.
Can friendship and conversation turn them around? Would these techniques have turned around Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, or would they have co-opted them for their own sinister designs? In view of the fact that there has never been a society that has been able to relax sanctions against anti-social behaviors, I had my doubts about their effectiveness. I’m certainly not against using the carrot before the club. Some will respond favorably to the carrot, but it seems to be undeniable that the club also has its place.
Perhaps this should lead us to a reassessment of humanity and our prescriptions for a better world. Perhaps we have faults at the core of our being that all of the loving affirmations in the world cannot adequately address. Occupy Wall Street and the communists are convinced that they can create a better world by removing the evil elites.
However, the elites are the people who are rich in affirmations. They are successful and have had their needs met, at least more completely than the rest of us. Aren’t they the ones who should be models of self-actualization and humanity? However, affirmations can also harden us in our pride and self-trust.
If our illness lies at the core of our being, perhaps we need to be reborn from above, as the Prophet Ezekiel wrote:
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses.” (Ezekiel 36:25-29).
If this is correct, then all of our attempts at self-rectification, revolution, and social re-designing are, at best, superficial and temporary. Instead, the inside must first be changed before the outside can be meaningfully addressed.