The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.
Acknowledgment is a second important quality of character in living community.
I have chosen the word “acknowledgment” rather than “acceptance” or “tolerance” for good reason. We all must agree to abide by certain rules and patterns of behaviour in any society. It doesn’t matter who we are, where we come from, what our gender or ethnicity, what our politics, what our level of wealth—we simply are required to do certain things and not permitted to do others in some places at some times.
And in any society we must recognize the differences in values, beliefs, and actions that make a difference and the differences that don’t make a difference. In any society we can acknowledge values, beliefs, and actions without accepting all of them as right.
Let’s explore a tough issue to bring acknowledgment to life. In some societies newly married couples killed any female baby born to them until they had a male child, a practice biologists and social scientists call female infanticide. When I first came across this custom my reaction was visceral aversion. I could not begin to accept it.
When people do not live community in a society they claim the right to translate such “natural” visceral aversion into a universal moral principle. “That’s just wrong, period,” they say. They do not try to understand the custom.
When people live community they acknowledge and try to understand the practice in a cultural setting in which it was present for thousands of years to keep a population in check—to keep it within the carrying capacity of the environment. Obviously, female infanticide leads to fewer adult females to have babies. That`s why it was accepted as right by some people. But it does not need to be accepted as right today.
Indeed, with 3,000 years of Oriental philosophy and 2,000 years of Western philosophy behind us, and with the teachings of those who have experienced deep layers of consciousness available to us, we may well determine that no society should continue to practice female infanticide under any circumstances. But we come to this conclusion as responsible human beings. We continue to acknowledge the beliefs and values of those who have lived differently from us for thousands of years. We can make the distinction between acknowledgment and understanding, on the one hand, and total acceptance of every belief, value, and behaviour on the other.
Let’s continue our exploration with an imaginary journey. People from many cultures and traditions are standing on the edge of an empty space. We may call this space “Canada” or “the United States” or “Argentina” or “India” at some point, but at the moment it has no name at all. No one has ever lived in this space.
On a signal from some outside source, everyone steps into the empty space and walks around together, in silence at first. Then, carefully, they begin to converse with each other.
Together they ask a fundamental question: “How shall we live community with each other?” We are different from each other as individuals but equal as human beings. We are interested in each other. We acknowledge and try to understand each other. We cannot know for sure what will happen next. Still, we must experience and create values, customs and laws together that work for all of us.
I have been told by some that this “naive” exercise is of no practical use. The trends of our times are not mere fabrications. Some people were here first. Others, with new ways, came later. Everyone has used illegitimate power to gain and solidify control in the past and they will continue to do so.
Of course they are right in the “real world.” But each of us has a choice as to what values we embrace in our lives. We all have small pockets of influence—in our families, our schools, our places of work. We can choose to live differently, if only for moments in time. “Whose real world?” I want to ask. Maybe I can live community with some people some of the time