About fifteen years ago, I noticed myself using the following phrase frequently: It’s never wrong to do the right thing. I am no longer sure how it came to be in my mind. Perhaps I read it somewhere, but I have tried several times to “google” it to no avail. It is possible that it came to me as a result of the many different books I have read in my life. In addition, my mind seems to do a lot of work while I sleep or appear to be occupied with other matters. Regardless of its source, this idea has helped me countless times when I had to make decisions involving others or for myself alone.
The Universe as I See It.
My overview of the universe and how it works is based upon five key understandings: first, that evolution is a fact and that understanding how evolution works can provide insights into how humanity acts and how one might expect it to act in the future; second, that beliefs, ideas, apparent truths, and highly respected principles are simply memes created by human minds over the centuries of human existence, they are just ideas and not essential or self-evident truths; third, the trinity of ideas – god, the soul, and the afterlife are merely ideas which do not exist in any other form; fourth, the idea of truth is most often subjective and thus entirely relative to time, space, and whomever is interpreting at any given time; it does not exist in and of itself; fifth, the path to truth is not preordained. “Truth is a pathless land,” (Jiddu Krishnamurti).
What Is Needed at this Time?
No matter what we believe or do not believe about why we exist or how we got to this place in time, we must face certain immutable facts. First, we live in a different world than has ever existed before. There are many more of us, and we are much more integrated across the world. Old ideas about nationalism and boundaries are becoming outdated. Cultures are mixing, and people are sharing across races and nationalities in ways no one could have anticipated even one hundred years ago. DNA testing is becoming popular, and across the world, people are discovering lost cousins, grandparents, shared histories, and origins that surprise and excite. We are much more inter-related than anyone ever suspected. Indeed, it has been suggested that it is possible that we are all descended from one ancient mother. Think of the implications if we are all cousins.
We need to find a way or ways to get along and to break down the barriers we have created to protect ourselves. If the ideal community size according to our ability to live comfortably is about two hundred and fifty, we clearly have some work to do since that kind of community is no longer feasible. We must learn to live together, or we will eventually destroy what we have.
Nationalistic, religious, and culturally based ideas do not hold the answer. In most cases, they lead to animosity, hatred, and even war and death. We must find some way to co-exist and even be friendly about it. It is with this need in mind, that I wish to suggest some principles that could be helpful in developing the mindset we require from here on.
My Four Guiding Principles
The following principles are ideas I have gleaned from my reading and studying over the past fifty plus years. I do not consider them to be universal truths; they are observations about how the universe seems to work. Maybe they are true and maybe not, but in my mind, they offer some hope for the future.
First Principle: The universe seems to require balance. This idea is best expressed in the eastern concepts of Yang and Yin, sometimes interpreted as male and female, positive and negative, or light and dark. It seems logical; the world could not endure all day or all night – both are required. Likewise, it appears that both male and female are necessary. Positive and negative forces exist in the world of physics.
What this means for individuals is that we cannot expect everything to go our way. Sometimes bad stuff happens and sometimes good. We would love to have a world where only good things occurred, but it likely would not work very well. We might die of boredom caused by being happy all the time. Moreover, we must consider that balance is not just about individual lives; it is about all lives and all things. How we deal with this balancing will determine whether human life can continue to exist.
Second Principle: In the past, I have always considered these two concepts as separate, but now, I think putting them together would be more useful. They are as follows: we reap what we sow, and we seem to get what we need at any given time. The first idea is clear. Our actions cause reactions, and good generally brings good back or vice versa. The second may be harder to grasp or accept. Sometimes bad stuff happens, and we cannot imagine that it is what we need. I suggest that we look very carefully at our lives. I have done this and, almost without exception, I can see how negatives in my life have led me to make positive changes and enjoy positive results. Yes, I could have done without them, but the final judgement arises with this question; are you happy with who you are today? You might as well be because that is who you are, and who you are is the sum of all you have been and have experienced, both the good and the bad. In fact, who you are is your end of the universe’s balancing act.
Third Principle: How do we learn to accept and be comfortable with the above two ideas? My third principle joins two seemingly divergent and incompatible concepts. The first is that we are all connected in a unity of being. The second is that we are all alone. How could this be? First, we know that the universe is made up of a finite amount of material. Everything gets used and then stops being and then gets reused again and again. We are born, we die, we decompose, and the atoms find their way into something else. We are not separate but a part of everything. Second, for a time, every plant, animal, rock, cloud, or mountain appears to be an individual thing. During this existence, especially for humans, who have developed the ability to see themselves as individuals, there exists a sense of aloneness where one must make decisions for and by oneself, even though in the big picture, these decisions can have far-reaching effects on others. So how do these two concepts help? It is important to understand aloneness so that one can become responsible for one’s actions. Blaming others never helps. Once one accepts responsibility, it is important to realize that there is this connection. This helps us to keep from becoming too selfish and destructive in our environment.
Fourth Principle: Life is complicated with all the connectedness, the aloneness, the reaping, and the sowing let alone just trying to get by day in and day out. How can one do it? I offer principle four, pay attention. I have spent large swathes of my life in a seeming fog of ignorance about what was going on. I was on automatic pilot but did not know that it had not been invented yet. Living requires attention if we want it to run smoothly and to the advantage of everyone, not just ourselves. Without attention, opportunities go flying by; chances to make changes, help others, or improve some aspect of our lives all are gone without notice. We must pay attention, not tomorrow or next year but RIGHT NOW, ALWAYS!
The above are the four principles that I believe could help us live better, more fruitful, and less destructive lives. They do not require a god or a soul or an afterlife. They are all about now. Throw away the automatic pilot or at least just use it when you are parking your car. Life is about being connected, responsible, and in the moment.
Deciding What Is the Right Thing
The key question is how does one establish what is right at any given moment? That is not easily answered, so when trying to establish what is right, I suggest considering the four principles above. Remember that balance seems to be necessary, so we cannot have everything our way, but maybe there are times when apparent selfishness is what is required. Remember that our actions have consequences that are often far-reaching and that what seems not good can prove to be a great teacher down the road. Remember that we are connected and that we must be responsible for our decisions. And above all, pay attention at all times. Do not miss the obvious because you are playing four moves ahead or behind.
In this short essay, I have tried to explain what I believe about life and living. I am not bound by any strong beliefs or apparent universal truths. Instead, my ideas have grown from my observations. I do not accept the existence of a god, a soul, or an afterlife. Everything of significance is now, in this life. I do not believe what others tell me to believe. Instead, I watch what is going on around me, I remember my experiences, and I formulate hypotheses about meaning. Nothing is sacred or immutable though some things appear to make sense while others do not. However, I am not ready to give up hope for a world where difference is a reason to celebrate and not a cause for hatred, war, or killing. Thus, I accept the possibility that humans can learn to be better if they just pay attention and do the right thing.
I am the author of The Summer of the Ennead and I want to use this blog to engage readers in a dialogue about what this book means to me and what I think it has to say to others.