Rules of Engagement
to Little Red Riding Hood
“Be the Person Who Breaks the Cycle.
If you were judged, choose understanding. If you were rejected, choose acceptance. If you were shamed, choose compassion.
Be the person you needed when you were hurting, not the person who hurt you. Vow to be better than what broke you — to heal instead of becoming bitter so you can act from your heart, not your pain.” — Lori Deschene
“Every human being is ... equally unfree. That is, we ... create out of freedom, a prison.” — Otto Rank
… that being said, however,
The Truth Will Set You Free
For thousands of years, evil and suffering kept humanity their hostage, tricking us into hurting each other in a vicious cycle, feeding the evil with our pain and giving it a new life.
And yet, we can stop whenever. We are not chained to galleys, we aren’t locked in prison cells -- physically we are free. It is our minds that are still locked up in cages made of lies. But if we know the truth, the truth will set us free.
“The purpose of life is to be happy” —Dalai Lama
Happiness is not a luxury. Its pursuit is more than an inalienable human right. It is our greatest moral obligation, before ourselves and the others. As it happens, happiness cannot be given. It can only be shared. To that end, we must become happy first.¹
Happiness is our moral compass as well. Not being happy with something means we are not doing it right.² “We” as individuals, and “we” as our (very much broken) society — the latter must be fixed before anyone can become truly happy.
“Guilt is the thief of life” — Antony Hopkins
Blame, Guilt, and Punishment
This may sound radical, if not dangerous at first, but the more you think about it, the more obvious it appears:
- Because everyone is already doing their best, every time, all the time (given what they know and/or are capable of), no one can be responsible for their past actions. Like (duh!..) — if we could have done better, we would, wouldn’t we?
- Every evil act harms the perpetrator themselves, first and foremost.
- Punishment is never a good thing, and it only makes things worse.
No one should be blamed for what they did. No one should be ashamed for what they have done, no one should feel guilty for it — no one, including someone who we won’t name here, except to say that she’s a human too, and fully deserves our love and compassion… not to mention our everlasting gratitude. We are not to be held responsible for our past —what’s done is done) —but we are responsible for learning from it and for doing our best in the future.³
The golden rule 2.0
Everyone knows it: treat others the way you want to be treated. It is true, but not the whole truth.
There is another reason for being nice to others. That reason is our relationship with ourselves: we end up treating ourselves the same way we treat others.
It isn’t common knowledge because we don’t talk much about our relationship with ourselves. Yet we do have one and — surprise! — it follows the same rules as our other relationships. That knowledge is important tho because it explains how Karma works and it gives us the leverage we need.
For example, that is how we learn self-compassion, or how we stop shaming ourselves, etc — we’ll have it when we stop shaming others and learn compassion for them.⁴
So far so good, but there is one special case that needs to be explained separately. It concerns our tendency to dehumanize our opponents by suggesting that they are not the kind of people we can reason with.⁵ A basket of deplorables, they are broken, thus making violence (or threat of violence) the only language they can understand.
Being the opposite of compassion, dehumanizing others has been the signature of “civilization” since its dawn 10,000 years ago, often leading to violence, wars, and the worst of atrocities. It is still all around us.⁶
And it is always a horrible thing to do,⁷ but what makes it special is how effortless, how casual it makes us failing as human beings. We cross the line that should never ever be crossed, and we don’t even notice!⁸
Well.. today is a good day to stop.⁹
Ubuntu refers to a pre-“civilization” concept that has long been forgotten, even tho it is absolutely essential for maintaining healthy relationships and for the functioning of society as a whole. The English language doesn’t even have a word for it — and we cannot understand something unless we can name it!
Luckily for us, some African cultures existed outside of “civilization” until relatively recently and their languages still have that word. Ubuntu's literal translation is “I am because we are”, and means that we can only be as happy as others are (of course, people close to us affect us more, but, otherwise, the others include every human on the planet).
In particular, Ubuntu means that no one had ever got ahead by screwing up the others. Ever. Some became rich, powerful, fearsome — only to become ever more miserable, giving up bit by bit their humanity, and with it all chances to experience happiness again.
“As you sow, so shall you reap” —only we start paying the price (or being rewarded) for our choices the moment we decide on them.
And since we cannot hurt anyone w/o hurting ourselves first (and plenty), then there is no point in hating others for inflicting pain on us. They are paying for it already, and they are suffering for longer than we know.⁵
They don’t need another lesson, they don’t need to keep hurting themselves. They had enough. We had enough.
All of us.
¹⁽ᵃ⁾ the same is true for misery — giving it to others ensures sharing it with them
¹⁽ᵇ⁾ “I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and some thing to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do.
To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try.
I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”
— Roger Ebert, 1942–2013
² happiness ≠ joy.. we can endure a lot of pain as long as we know when it is going to end — the right kind of sacrifice will not take away our happiness.. and if it does, then we are not doing it right
³ that, btw, might be the only knowledge we need to resolve any past trauma. Think of the way we end up processing it — wandering through the maze of memories, soaked in pain and guilt, sometimes for years, sometimes forever… But what if every such struggle is just the person’s very own journey towards discovering the same truth? What if resolving trauma “simply” means us finally realizing that “No, it wasn’t my fault”.. so we can finally make peace with ourselves?
And if that is true, maybe knowing the final answer from the start would bring us the closure we need?
⁴⁽ᵃ⁾ … and, especially, compassion for people that we don’t particularly like because we often put ourselves near the top of that list. Just as well, we should be careful judging others because we end up judging ourselves just as harshly.
⁴⁽ᵇ⁾ … and how do we learn compassion for the people we don’t like? — keep reading, the answer is at the end of the article.
⁵ Evil is objective/absolute insofar as suffering is objective/absolute, meaning a rational human (most people aren’t) would never do evil out of ignorance. Only when tormented by pain and fear to the point they cannot think straight anymore, people let their dark side to take over.
⁶ The left/progressives are among the worst offenders, and it is by no means an accident. Evil itself wears no party colors and it does not discriminate. It knows better than to fall for its own tricks.
⁷ Sometimes I hear “But what about psychopaths? Feeling no remorse, no guilt — doesn't it make them inherently evil, too broken to justify our compassion and humane treatment?”. Well, consider this: if being emotionally challenged is all there is to psychopathy, then the ultimate psychopath is a StarTrek character, Lt. commander Spok.
⁸ Wondering what is behind that superpower? Turns out, dehumanization beats the Golden Rule! The narrative goes like this:
Remember, we are not talking about people like you and me. We are reasonable, we listen to people we trust, and that’s why we ourselves can be trusted. Not those people, tho! — try as you might reason with them (as I’m sure you had), they never listen. Just as well, no matter how fair we treat them, they can never be trusted to uphold their part of the bargain.
⁹ How do we just stop? It’s a pretty simple exercise, but depending on your current emotional state, it can get a bit uncomfortable — feel free to skip to the rest of this footnote and go to the next one, should have (2) next to the number.
Otherwise, here is the exercise. Think of the worst person ever. Then say the following and let it sink:
I must assume they are human being, just like me. I need to understand what took away their humanity — not to justify what they have done, but to ensure that it will not happen to me.
⁹⁻¹ “Know [means understand] your enemy.” — Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”, circa 500 BC