On the Human Condition (Wellspring, Ch.1) pt.2
b. tragedy and transformationIt is no secret that life is full of tragedy. The Buddha's assertion that life is suffering has become one of the primary tenets of oriental philosophy. And yet, so much of the suffering we experience is caused by human behavior and misconceptions. If we meet life with a set of expectations, we tend to fulfill our expectations - by not only precipitating the responses and circumstances we expect, but also by selective awareness and seeing what we want to see. Yes, I said "want." No one truly desires to be proven wrong until one is ready to modify one's viewpoint and behavior. But it is true that if we treat someone with mistrust and disrespect, quite often that person will behave in a fashion which will merit it, or at the very least return those attitudes to us. It takes a very strong personality to avoid responding to another with a reciprocal attitude, or with anger if we feel denigrated. Of course, if we are treated with respect and compassion, we tend to automatically respond with the same in return. This is not a secret. We learn our behavior patterns from our interactions with each other, and we carry those patterns with us through life, even when we ascend to positions of social authority. However, it is possible to consciously change our behavior, and no longer cling to outmoded and unwanted patterns. It is difficult to do individually, but we can set up more favorable conditions in a community by agreement to facilitate the change.
The ability of human beings to transform our behavior and modes of social interaction is basic to our nature. It happens quite predictably, though without our awareness, as time passes and the customs of generational peer groups and the policies of various institutions change. We do not live in the same world as our great-grandparents. We can also take this process into our own hands and make the changes consciously, and not only for ourselves but for society as well. There have been social revolutions which have succeeded, when the ideas behind them spread fast enough, even against resistance. But this takes place much easier among friends and in small groups of people. The reason for this is that individuals feel more concerned when the ideas seem to affect them directly, and not in some vague and nebulous way applying only to society in general. It is easier to perceive the necessity for change in ourselves than in society at large, due to our limited capacity for comprehension, and it is easier to see our friends problems than our own, as distance lends us a measure of objectivity. But before we begin to criticize, we must be willing to listen and learn from others. Thus we need an agreement to help each other if we wish to make changes, especially in social behavior.
As human beings, we have a reflexive consciousness and the capacity to be self-aware and self-examining, and thereby have an ability to create a consistent pattern of mental and behavioral organization. That is how we inculcate habits, good or bad, by repeating behaviors that we find valuable. By the same effect, we also have an equal ability to resist change in our behavioral patterns, so we need to intentionally utilize our capacity to be molded by society and experience, especially as children. As we grow, we develop an ability to make value judgements about the things that affect our lives, and this helps to understand our social responsibility. It is this understanding, and our self-awareness, which gives us the capacity for conscious transformation of our mental and behavioral patterns, and an increasing capacity for spiritual growth and to transcend our limitations. This is a corollary to our ability to anticipate the future, and to create a meaning and purpose for interacting with that expectation to change or preserve it. At any age, we function best in an atmosphere of love and acceptance from our peers, and require freedom as a prerequisite for consensual change. Pressure or coercion implies a lack of good-will, and an expectation of rebellion, and thus thwarts the adjustment it attempts to create.
It is tragic that most of our social problems stem from a simple misunderstanding of the human capacity to resist change and the propensity to resent any pressure that comes without our own agreement. If we wish to change society, we must learn to create those agreements, so that we do not meet an unwarranted intensity of resistance and conflict. However, we must always remember that the inherent resistance to change takes considerable time to overcome, and even though a individual may consciously agree with the necessity, the behavior may occasionally slip into its previous pattern. This is not the time for harsh criticism, but for a simple reminder and support. Otherwise, one runs the risk of strengthening the resistance to any change. The hope of preventing suffering and tragedy rests on an understanding of the human capacity for transformation and transcendance of one's narrow point of view. We need an agreement to create and live in a society founded on our highest ideals, not on pandering to our base desires and selfish interests. Those ideals should lead us to build harmonious and happy communities in balance with the natural order of the world.