Unto Others the Poison is Passed
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Unto Others the Poison is Passed • Posted: Sep 21, 2009 23:41:43Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

Trust is a funny thing. Without it, nothing socially cooperative works. We are all enemies to each other. But even with trust we often undermine ourselves. We trust some, but not others, and thereby lock ourselves into boxes bounded by suspicion.

Ethics attempts to replace trust in others with trust in principles of behavior. We reason that if we do well toward others, and they do the same, on average there will be less tension, less suspicion. Some societies develop ethics into highly elaborate systems of laws, with equally elaborate systems of jurisprudence to arbitrate conflict should people not adhere to laws or should laws not cover particular situations.

The problem with many of those elaborated systems of ethics is that they become disconnected from people's daily situational thinking. If, on a regular basis, people sat down with each other to discuss problems they saw resolving particular situations in an ethical and equitable manner, the growing disjunction between ethics and everyday thinking might not seem so ominously great. But with the collapse of dispassionate objective journalism as centerpiece and guiding light for such earnest discussions, the walls of suspicion seem only to be rising and strengthening all around us. Instead of willingly adherence to laws with full understanding of their purpose, more and more people are rationalizing that laws do not really apply to them because they were made by someone else for probable exploitive purposes.

Where is sympathy and compassion in all of this? What are the biological and psychological foundations of the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you?

Humans are not the only species capable of sympathy and compassion. Dogs, chimpanzees, dolphins, and even birds exhibit such behavior. Recent theorizing suggests the intellectual trick underlying sympathy and compassion is one of reflective modeling. Reflectively, an individual imagines what things must be like from another's point of view, what that other must want or need or be attempting to do. With considerable validity most humans are capable of imagining, with concern, what it must feel like for others to suffer the consequence of actions they themselves are contemplating. But, is every fully developed human capable of such an intellectual trick? More and more, the evidence would suggest not. But why is that?

Humans learn by example and by doing. What seems to be taking over for reflective modeling in today's socializing international media barrage is direct impact modeling, i.e. this will affect you in this way. Less and less is the socializing influence of the type: can you imagine how this will affect people? If nobody, by example, engages our capacity for reflective modeling, very likely our capacity to do so will be lost or never develop. In direct consequence, mutual trust across society will fall while mutual suspicion rises. The resultant world we will be forced to live in could become dark and turbulent with no one willing to trust anyone, a very sad turn of events.

May your capacity for sympathy and compassion grow ever stronger and never fail to guide you.

Sunday, July 12th, 2009