The Good and the Better

“A Native American elder once described his own inner struggles in this manner: Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time. When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, The one I feed the most.” – George Bernard Shaw 

The pendulum swings, the beast rears its head, the battle rages within us and outside of us.

The struggle between good and evil is a notion as old as humankind itself—the stuff of mythology, children’s fables, fantasy, religious cosmology and, in some way or another, nearly every book or film in existence.

These aggrandizements of the struggle paint it as something far beyond us, something only for heroes and deities. But it’s something every one of us must grapple with. Strip away the romance and the theatrics and the battle between good and evil is really only a battle between yourself and your better self. However, multiply that inner struggle by every person living and it becomes as epic as the stories make it out to be.

Maybe it’s hard for you to take mythology and terms like “good and evil” seriously. It’s understandable. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that we don’t go through our lives deciding whether to give or to take, to create or destroy, or to close off and protect our egos or open up and risk vulnerability so we can change for the better. We face these choices many times in just one day.

So, who’s winning?

It’s tempting, maybe even reasonable to assume that evil often prevails. News reports are mostly about bombings, wars, crime, corruption, greed and on and on and on. Humanity seems to be in a constant state of conflict. We tend to split ourselves between us and them, me and “the other,” and we justify heinous crimes against each other in response. Plus, there’s often present a mentality where doing some small evil will go unnoticed—as will some small good—so making the selfish, ego-driven choice seems easier and more beneficial.

On the other hand, humanity is still here. We’ve had ample opportunities to eradicate ourselves, but we haven’t. Plus, amidst the barrage of bad news, we often forget about the day-to-day good things that accumulate. Millions of times a day, a father takes his daughter to the park or his wife out to dinner, or the recent high school graduate choses enlisting in the Peace Corps rather than the military, or friends help each other move into a new house, or a son takes his elderly mother to the grocery store. Maybe these things aren’t “newsworthy” because they’re so common.

It gets bigger. I’ve heard of hospital doctors risking their careers to admit patients with no insurance under fake names. My grandfather told me stories of how allied bombers were instructed to avoid dropping bombs on historical monuments, museums, hospitals and orphanages in Germany during World War II—a tiny light in the crushing darkness.

I’d say most of the time, the light outshines that darkness.

What’s it got to do with you?

This isn’t the first time I’ve talked about goodness in this blog—and check out a couple over on WK’s blog as well—but this time, something’s come up and I was having trouble deciding how to write about it. Then I talked to a friend.

He gave me a somewhat religious perspective, so naturally I was skeptical at first. But he told me about being in jail, in fear of being deported back to Mali, and reading the Bible. He told me how it calmed him down and tuned him into his surroundings and himself. He said he started making the right decisions, distancing himself from the wrong ones, and how he began to notice on some deeper level what was going on around him with his fellow inmates, his family, lawyers, guards and judges. And thankfully, he was able to navigate his way out of his predicament.

Me, tending to think about these sorts of things from a THEE perspective, took it to mean that somehow my friend had used his awareness; he had jumped a level of consciousness, so to speak.

And this is how we do it; this is how we become better people. We are a discordant lot. Again, the struggle between good and evil is really the struggle between ourselves and our better selves—the two dogs the old Indian spoke about. A part of us is grounded in the physical world, concerned with survival and status and self-protection. But the better part of us exists in the light, to create, and as a tiny, but significant part of the whole. And that part of us is why goodness can always win.

I’d love to hear your stories, readers. Anything that caused you to somehow just see beyond your basic self? It doesn’t have to be connected to a religious text or anything at all. How did you find your better self?

Dear Graduates: A Little Advice as You Enter the Workforce

It’s graduation season, kids. We all know what that means: time to go to work!

That’s right, the party’s over, it’s responsibility time, the “real world” is knocking on your door, it’s time to get serious about life. I’d go on, but I only made it through one semester of guidance counselor-ese, myself.

It’s become a bad college movie trope, the reminiscent, middle-aged father telling his child how college was the best time of his life, how it’s all downhill after graduation. But what this old cliché fails to point out is that the career on your horizon spans the bulk of the rest of your life the journey you’re about to embark upon could very well be your greatest adventure.

What you do for a living will come to define your life. Your successes, failures and landmark moments (not counting marriage, kids, etc.) will mostly be at work from now on. Of course, some of us strike out on our own, becoming entrepreneurs or otherwise independent of organizational work. For you guys, there’s an entirely different framework.)

Obviously, before anything else happens, you’ve got to get a job. That’s why universities have job placement programs and they set up internships and whatnot. And that’s great! But do they ever teach you how to work? Do we ever get to learn anything about how life in an organization really is? Does anyone tell you what it’s going to be like or what you should do once you get the job?

Perhaps our educational institutions assume that that actual work part is self-explanatory. And in some ways, I’d agree with that assessment but there’s plenty about prospering that goes beyond common sense. Allow me to introduce you to THEE’s Career Development framework. (Of course, some of us strike out on our own, becoming entrepreneurs or otherwise independent of organizational work. For you guys, there’s an entirely different framework.)

Once you’ve figured out how to do the job well, then what? You could stop there and still be a model employee, endeavoring away at whatever it is you do. But if you want to take it a step further, learn how the power structure works and how you can make it work for you.

This is the delicate dance between gaining respect within your organization without alienating the powers-that-be. This means being firm but not overbearing, outspoken but not antagonistic, bold yet humble. It’s a bit of an art form, but it is not at all impossible. And if I may add my two cents, try your best to be authentic and sincere throughout. Simply “playing the game” might be helpful for a time, but cannot be overlooked for long.

Let’s say you’ve mastered the pecking order. By now, we’re probably several years into your employment. But at some point, you’ve got to distinguish yourself from the pack. The best way to do this is by becoming a specialist. I wrote an entire blog on this a while back. But it’s worth mentioning again. Let’s say, for example, you work for a public relations firm. You might make it so you’re the best press release writer they’ve got.

Things like that often require some extra effort on your part. Maybe you’ll need to take a night class or do quite a bit of outside reading. But somehow or another, you’ve got to make yourself indispensable. 

Let’s go one more level. If you’ve become a specialist and made it through the first three steps in your career development, chances are you will have been promoted to a position of some authority. This is where you stop making it about you and start achieving for your team and the organization as a whole. In a sense, you’ve been doing that the entire time—or they would have fired you. But now, consider it your mission to foster cooperation, develop consensus and, among other things, be of service to not only your own department, but others as well.

THEE outlines three, more, steps in its career development framework, but we’ll stop here for now. It’s probably not that useful to tell you how you should approach your career in 15-20 years from now. But I would encourage you to revisit the framework as time goes by. I’ve only merely outlined the basic premise of each step and only you will be able to judge how each step applies in your particular context.

On a final note, and in the grand scheme of things, I know the anxiety and uncertainty facing many graduates these days. Will there be jobs? How will I pay my loans? What if I don’t like my job and what I’m doing? Well… I don’t know. But if only by virtue of the fact that you’ve made it this far, it’s evident that you are a creative person capable of finishing what you set out to do. Facing the next great adventure in life with the same enthusiasm, courage and positivity that brought you to this state is a great start.

Seven Steps to a Better World

Why so serious?

Got the weight of the world on your shoulders? It’s enough that you have bills, pressures at work and a desire to make sure the kids grow up as functional and well-rounded as possible. Who’s got time to worry about “making the world a better place” let alone finding some time to enjoy yourself?

But you are a thoughtful person. In your quiet moments, you can’t help but concern yourself with the plights of humanity—the wars, the state of society, the bombings and shootings, the seemingly endless economic uncertainty—but what can you do? You’re just one person and you’ve got your own problems.

Without sounding too much like an infomercial sales pitch… Good news! You can have it all!

It’s true that there are limits on how much each of us as individuals can affect the course our societies are on. But that doesn’t mean we’re completely powerless. So, in the spirit of cheesy marketing list articles, I’m offering you the Seven Steps to a Better World! (cue triumphant orchestral music and B-movie narrator reverb)

Step one: Get Enjoyment: Cast off your cares once in a while. Have a good time. You’ll feel better, more equipped to face the challenges in your life, and those around you will find your elevated mood and sense of optimism infectious.

Step two: Hold Ideals: Decide for yourself what’s good and right and true. It’s important that your ideals are genuine, authentic and deeply rooted. Give yourself, those around you and society something to live up to.

Step three: Become Aware: Tune in to what’s going on around you. Why do the people around you do what they do, say what they say? What’s their perspective? Worldview? Emotional state? Social context? There’s usually much more going on within others than what manifests itself on the surface. 

Step four: Care About Others: It’s difficult not to view the whole of humanity as a number or series of statistics—7 billion is truly impossible to fathom. But resist this urge. Everyone on Earth is just like you—they want to be taken seriously. They want acceptance and validation. They need help sometimes, be it emotionally, physically or financially.

Step five: Do Your Best: You’re always doing something, whether it’s at work or school or for your own enjoyment. Every endeavor in your life requires a certain amount of creativity, commitment, diligence and concentration. Give it all you’ve got, all the time.

Step six: Heed What’s Right: Similar to “Hold Ideals,” this step takes it another level and asks you to do what’s right even in the face of mass opposition. It’s common that those around you—or even your entire society—are making disastrous decisions and following dangerous paths. If you’re aware of this, if you have your principles, it’s your responsibility to do what you know to be the right thing anyway. 

Step seven: See Unity: The truth of the matter is… we’re all in the same boat. Languages, borders, cultures, ethnicities, religions, ideologies and many other factors separate us. But our humanity unifies us. There is much more that all the peoples in the world have in common than they don’t.

These seven steps emerge in THEE as Primal Injunctions, deep within the Your Better Self framework. It’s an important framework, and very personal. Within it are the keys to one’s purpose in life, (discussed in the blog George’s Quest) discussions of spirituality, divinity and the struggle between good and evil.

But those are all heavy topics. Let’s stay focused.

This blog is designed to answer the questions of: What can I do about it? A blog entitled “Seven Steps to a Better World” could easily read something like: end war, poverty, corruption, greed, discrimination, disease and cookie-cutter pop teen sensations. But let’s be honest, there’s nothing you can personally do to bring all of those things about. However, if you and scores of other people can get a line on these Primal Injunctions, a better world could be just around the corner.

Technology, Communication and the Coming Enlightenment

In a previous blog, I speculated about some of the potential dangers of our emerging technological revolution. So, I thought I’d provide a little balance and discuss how amazing it has been and how it might positively affect our future.

My mother has always been a tech-junkie. She used to school my brother and me on DOS programming and she had us building computers from the ground up for her little consulting business before we were teenagers. Things were pretty different back then. I probably couldn’t build a computer or write code these days.

Still, for me, computers and communication technology was just a part of growing up. I had no idea the implications that would result in the next couple of decades.

But let’s go back a few dozen millennia before we get into all that.

Roughly 35,000 years ago, homo sapiens started talking. Probably not the most sophisticated conversations—something along the lines of: “Hey, there’s a saber-toothed tiger over there. Time to go.” But nevertheless, it was a complete revolution, the likes of which Earth had never seen. Imagine—the first words spoken on planet Earth.

Of course, animals communicate with various signs and signals that convey meaning. But really, humans just started doing it better. They created a complex system of language that enabled them to build things and organize more complex endeavors. And it was only 20 thousand years or so before they started writing things down. Shortly thereafter, we saw helpful little things emerge like laws, record keeping, and literature. This led to educational institutions, primitive bureaucracies, civilization as we know it and much more. Another revolution, to be sure.

Then came the printing press. Ideas started spreading like wildfire. Literacy went on the rise and western society was finally able to cast off the shackles of the Catholic Church, divine right, serfdom and feudalism. Again, society took a giant step forward.

Now, 600 years later, we face a change no less radical than the ones previously mentioned. The running theme is a fundamental shift in the way we communicate. We’re already seeing the shrinking world, the dissolution of cultures separated by borders, heightened economic interdependence between nations and peoples, and the rising exposure to new and foreign ideas, ideologies and ways of life. The communication revolution is affecting nearly every facet of our lives from the way in which we relate to others via social media to how and where we do business. In under 20 years, the Internet has become the backbone of the global economy.

The political implications are fascinating. The Arab Spring revolutions mobilized on social media websites. The Occupy Wall Street movement went from a park in Manhattan to every major city in the U.S. in a matter of weeks. They coordinated protests and rallies. They shared information instantly. What the mainstream media conveniently left out as these movements developed, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook filled in.

A THEE inquiry into political development through time suggests that the next stage in our social growth will be guided by an ethic of mass mobilization. This probably wouldn’t be possible without the technology that’s been developed in the last couple of decades. And it’s so perfect—it fits so well into the model that history has conveniently constructed for us: changes in communication mean changes in everything.

But that’s not all. It’s possible that this ability to communicate more effectively with peoples outside of our own narrow cultures will dramatically broaden something more fundamental within our humanity, will alter the way in which we see ourselves and the whole of humankind. We here at the THEE Online Project are calling it the 21st Century Enlightenment:

  • We might discover that the variety of approaches to life means a sort of committed relativity. We have our ways of living, handling others, working, raising families, etc. Others have their ways. Mine is right for me, theirs is right for them. And we might teach each other a few things along the way. Increased communication leads to greater awareness which leads to tolerance, understanding and mutual respect as sure as night follows day. That’s a good thing. 

  • The ability of each person to express themselves and find an audience online can lead to a drive for each person to be authentic, or “true to themselves,” as it were. It’s already changing economics. Via social media, email and online reviews, companies now respond more quickly to the needs and wants of their consumers. We are seeing a two-way communication between business and customer. Perhaps politics can follow suit someday.  

  • Finally, enhanced communication facilitates the search for answers—be they fact-based, spiritual, emotional or social. And access to raw information is just the beginning. Perhaps we can expect new life experiences to become part of the web, giving each individual greater range and opportunity than their locale and the people who surround them can offer. 

It’s difficult to say exactly how these phenomena will develop. But it is certainly exciting to know that our living at this point in time will most certainly contribute to a pivot-point in human history. Now there’s a reason to feel important.

Religion, Morality and New Atheism

Perhaps there is nothing more controversial than religion. Deeply embedded in every culture on Earth with its multiplicity of cosmologies and texts, religion has been a point of contention through the ages. In our supposed modern, enlightened societies, nothing has really changed.

I hope I live to see a THEE inquiry into this, to see the seven-legged beast that is religion. (You know, because all THEE hierarchies have seven levels.) There are bits and pieces on the website now. For example, we know that organized religion sits at the very top of a hierarchy called Society’s Natural Moral Institutions right above Governance systems. These moral institutions are packed within the sixth level (which always seems to be particularly significant) of the seven Approaches to Identity, which is nested in the fourth level of the Root Hierarchy—Experience. See the picture if you’d like.

This alone sheds quite a bit of light on religion—a moral institution directly connected to identity. While this might only be validation for many of us, THEE paints religion as something social rather than an Earthly representative of a deity or deities.

The Pros

Nominally, religion serves some important personal and social functions. The pious see religion as their pathway to closeness with God, a tool for spirituality, and it certainly can be a useful tool. However, spirituality is possible without religion and religion is possible without spirituality.

Religion can be useful as a connection with others and history through ritual and tradition. It serves to preserve important cultural practices and artifacts as well as provide an anchor for a collective identity that transcends national borders, time, language differences, race, gender and class. It’s a community thing.

Finally—as the placement of organized religion within THEE indicates—religion gives billions of people a moral framework from which to draw guidance as they go through their lives, making decisions and interacting with others.

The Cons 

Religion becomes contentious on two levels. First, it’s often more about empire building than spirituality, community or morals. Power-centered leaders use religious belief to place themselves and their adherents above others, justifying enslavement, wars, genocides and a host of other atrocities. 

Second, it comes down to an epistemological stalemate. One claims the ultimate truth of their text, their revelation, their spiritual leader. Every other religion makes the same claims. None can prove that they are right and the others are wrong, so debates and disagreements devolve into pettiness, name-calling and violence.

The Opposition 

Religion has always had its naysayers. Perhaps they were much quieter in previous epochs, but there have always been those who only see “The Cons.”

Today, we are seeing the emergence of a particularly vocal and inflammatory group rallying under the banner of “New Atheism.”

There’s nothing particularly new about their movement, except that perhaps they are exceptionally rude. Their loose organization exhibits most, if not all, of the features of a religion. They’ve got their sense of community and are in the process of forming their rituals—which as far as I can tell involves seeking out the religious to tell them how stupid they are.

They make similarly baseless and improvable assertions, such as that God most certainly does not exist, and they refer to The Origin of Species or The God Delusion as their infallible texts. Their prophets and preachers are the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Their cosmology lies in scientific speculation like the Big Bang or that lightning struck the primordial soup and life emerged or some such thing. As Terence McKenna said: “Give us one free miracle and we [science] will explain the rest!” If there isn’t currently a scientific explanation for something, well, we have faith that science will find the answer.

They answer the question of morals in various ways. Either morals are somehow innate which, interestingly, is a common argument among theologians like St. Augustine and C.S. Lewis. Or perhaps morals are a function of neurons firing. This is, of course, absurd. Electric signals between cells have nothing to do with morals. Or, perhaps they rely on social institutions to provide morals for them, such as (gasp!) organized religion? More likely, they would count on Level 6 of the Hierarchy of Society’s Natural Moral Institutions—Governance systems.

(Quick side-note on that topic—some argue that government has become a religion in some circles, offering guidance and exerting ideological control.)

Personally, I’m not religious. I tend to be quite wary of anyone claiming knowledge of any absolute truth—scientists, evangelists and atheists alike. This is not me coming to the defense of religion as a whole. But I am pointing out that:

  • 1) Religion is an unmovable social institution. It has always been here, it will always be here, and it will certainly outlast the New Atheism movement. Its very existence in THEE solidifies it as an integral part of being human. 

  • 2) Religion is not useless or inherently harmful. Rather, it is of ultimate importance for some and serves some useful social functions despite lending itself to corrupt and ambitious leaders. 

  •  3) Organizations dealing in morality, community and cosmology are religious organizations, even if they are in name, anti-religious. 

  •  4) One of the main features of the 21st Century Enlightenment is accepting, respecting and empathizing with the multitude of viewpoints in our diverse and ever-evolving societies—not dedicating entire movements to tearing them down. 
Are you on board? I’d love to hear you readers weigh-in on this.