“What is the moral assignment?”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
This paper will explore the social and economic consequences of spiritual disorders, especially those of domination and bullying, greed and gluttony that lead to social and economic disorder and keep the common good uncommon.
We are facing a most serious economic and ecosystem breakdown combined with the worst consequences for the planet and it’s people that the world has ever seen. For the first time in history we can communicate worldwide with lightening speed and computers can adequately translate intelligent meaning between languages, and yet, the consciousness of the majority of humankind struggles to understand the seriousness of the situation before us.
It is important to know the consequences we are facing but it is more important to find methods and means whereby human consciousness can be elevated. The result must promote the thinking, integrity and level of compassionate justice with the greatest possibility of leading us to action designed to bring about the common good and avert ecological disaster: to love as an act of will in a way that will unite us in all our diversity with our world in all of its diversity and help us be at peace with ourselves and nature.
What follows is a brief, but inspiring example: in ancient Greece about 2,800 years ago, there lived a man by the name of Lycurgus. This man’s leadership was so impressive that his name and deeds have lived on in what bits of history remain of those times. In fact, Lycurgus’s image and his legacy as a lawmaker is depicted in two major government buildings in the United States of America: the Supreme Court and the Chamber of the House of Representatives.
Lycurgus was known as the lawgiver of Sparta. When he came into power the wealth of his domain was held by just a few and there were many poor. Before he took on his leadership role he traveled to many lands and spent time evaluating the problems of his people. Eventually he formulated a grand plan and he set down laws to bring the plan to fruition for the benefit of his people. Once the plan was complete Lycurgus traveled to the oracle at Delphi to ask for guidance, and there he presented his laws, hoping his respect for justice would be validated. The oracle told Lycurgus that his prayers had been heard and that the state which observed the laws of Lycurgus would become the most famous in the world.
With such an endorsement, Lycurgus returned to the leading men of Sparta and enlisted their support for a thoroughgoing reassignment and equalizing of landholdings and wealth among the population, hoping that he might thereby diminish arrogance and envy, luxury and crime. His plan was that citizens should all live together on an equal footing, and, additionally, he appealed to them to accept that merit was to be their only road to prominence.
At the time there was extreme inequality among the citizens of Sparta. Their state was overloaded with a multitude of indigent and needy persons, while its wealth was centered upon a very few. Lycurgus began the transition with his closest friends, then these friends brought in their own friends. Gradually, and with much consultation, they made sure there would be no opposition to the reforms Lycurgus had presented. Eventually they were able to win over everyone to the new reforms without warfare or violence.
Before the reforms, Sparta had oscillated between the extremes of democracy and tyranny, anarchy and dictatorship. With the addition of the senate, which acted like the ballast in a ship, it resisted both extremes; the government became stable and the people and their rulers respected each other. Next Lycurgus introduced money made of iron and called in all gold and silver, in order to defeat greed and dependence on money and banish litigation.
He had begun by equalizing land holding and wealth among the population. He now elevated the status of women through education and physical fitness, deciding that strong mothers make a stronger, fitter military and population. He structured the distribution of food to be certain that all citizens were fed only the healthiest of diets.
Lycurgus did not intend for Sparta to conquer and rule other cities. His opinion was that the happiness of a nation, like the happiness of a man, consists in the exercise of virtue, and not in power or wealth. His laws were for the purpose of making the Spartans free-minded, self-reliant, and sober.
When Lycurgus became confident in his reforms, he announced that he would return to the oracle at Delphi to sacrifice to Apollo. However before leaving for Delphi he called an assembly of the people of Sparta and made everyone, including the leaders and the senators, to swear an oath binding them to observe his laws until he returned.
He made the journey to Delphi and again consulted the oracle. He was told that his laws were excellent and his people famous. He then began fasting, believing he had done all he could for his people. It is believed he starved himself to death instead of returning home, knowing the citizens of Sparta would keep his laws indefinitely because of the oath they had made. This is believed to be the most generous act of a leader and Sparta’s remarkable success the result of a wise, devoted and spiritual leader.
Sparta was successful for at least 500 years, that is, until gold and silver money was brought home as the spoils of war, infecting Sparta with greed and the love of riches. With money came the desire for wealth, luxury and greed which subverted the laws of Lycurgus. (History of Greece: Biographies, “Lycurgus by Plutarch”.)
Sparta was only one small state in the world, large for its time in history, but representative of the possibility for human dignity, equality and justice to be brought about by an insightful and distinguished leader who had consulted in his known world for ideas and then gone to the center of spirituality of his time, Delphi, to get confirmation for his reforms before they were put into effect.
Here we are today, nearly three millennia after Lycurgus, and we face many of the same issues and problems: the extremes of democracy and tyranny, anarchy and dictatorship, wars, and needless brutality and violence; unequal distribution and quality of food, water and other resources; inequality of men and women in most places, lack of adequate education for most people, health problems and maternal deaths due to all of the above; greed, extremes of wealth and poverty, and so on. However, we are at the brink of severe global ecological disaster and economic, social and cultural problems beyond anything Lycurgus had to be concerned with. This is our fate. How we perceive these crises and how we go about solving these overwhelming problems will mean the difference between experiencing more needless suffering, loss and destruction or transitioning into a better world.
Acknowledging the monstrous failures that are haunting humanity (the needless suffering, the wasted potential, the festering injustices we see proliferating in our world), we could call this time “the dark heart needing fundamental change”. Change is possible, and it is happening as increasingly more people begin to realize the mistakes that have caused the tremendous crises in our economy, the horrific problems current (and looming) in our environment, and the ongoing social and cultural woes we face (wars, conflicts, instabilities, etc.).
Gigantic problems for the environment as presented by the fossil fuel industry, now masquerade as “engineering problems” that have “engineering solutions” (“Politics: Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” by Bill McKibben, Aug. 2012 issue Rolling Stone magazine). The fossil-fuel industry plans devastating advances to produce fossil fuels which will earn millions of dollars, using processes that are ruining the planet and causing destruction of the atmosphere, oceans and the possibility for life as we know it. This use of fossil fuels is seemingly unstoppable, because not only does the industry make huge amounts of money, but that money is tied into investments encompassing trade world wide, meaning there are plans for that money before the resources even come out of the ground.
Our devastating economic problems are due to dishonesty and economic exploitation of the many by the few, and greed masquerades as “neo-liberal economics”.
Institutionalized greed and the bullying of customers is evidenced by untrustworthy and de-regulated banking and credit card issuers who penalize customers with exorbitant “late charges” and increased finance charges for minor oversights. Investment agencies discriminate against smaller investors by charging higher fees and blocking their participation in higher earning investments.
Nearly all big businesses who out-source their customer service management make it nearly impossible to contact the company or “speak to a representative” which means they no longer believe service to their customers is worthwhile should any problem arise with the product. The customer becomes a victim to the bullying business with no recourse; the company has lowered expenses and increased profits. The structure of corporate America keeps the lower-level employees out of the loops of communication and consultation, fearful of self assertion and without a decent wage; the result allows management to get higher bonuses and the stockholder bigger dividends.
People and organizations become bullies because they have learned that this behavior works in their favor. They engineer the defeat of others as part of their competitive strategy using whatever means are expedient to secure that goal. Bullying is defined as repeated aggression, be it verbal, psychological or physical, by an individual or group against others. It is the systematic abuse of power. Bullying is the behavior that may lead to the irrational use of power or manipulation to achieve the goal of defeating and subjugating others. Conflict then flourishes and gives rise to fear, inefficiency, and lack of co-operation in any setting.
Victims are often viewed as deserving what they get, which in psychology is known as a complex mental defense termed “blame the victim”. Empathy for the victim is blunted because no one wants to put them-self into the victim's place. Their own need to feel safe and secure themselves takes precedent.
Proactive aggressors are calculating, powerful bullies. They set out to select appropriate victims, know precisely what rewards they may expect, and are reasonably certain they will have positive outcomes. There is always an imbalance of power favoring the bully; they select potential victims who are ill equipped to retaliate successfully. The imbalance of power accumulated by immense corporations always favors the corporation; even governments are no longer able to mitigate their power.
The tremendous increase in bullying among children reflects the upsurge of adult bullying and corporate bullying: the abuse of power has become an epidemic of intentional aggression (Randall, P. (2004) Adult Bullying: Perpetrators and Victims).
Age two and a half to three years is when the child needs to “have” objects, and this need is the major precursor to the behavior that eventually is refined into bullying. Being able to “snatch and grab” is one of the earliest abuses of power we know of. Bullying is a sign of immaturity in both individuals and organizations. It is also a sign of greed: (definition) excessive or rapacious desire especially for wealth or possessions; (antonym) generosity (source: dictionary.com).
Where does the aggression come from and why has it increased? In America one of the most potent forces making society more aggressive is the entertainment culture (Kelleher, 1995). The same influence probably applies to other countries who enjoy exported American entertainment. Television is a particularly strong influence. The average fourteen year old student has seen over 100,000 acts of violence on television. Exposure to cinema, videos, many sports, novels, comics, and other media offers a deluge of violence affecting 98% of us as entertainment; much of it glamorized.
This exposure to media violence may be influencing the murder rate. Murder is the third largest cause of death at work in the United States; for women it is the primary cause of death at work. One in four workers in America report being harassed, attacked or threatened at work during a one year period (Johnson and Sudvik, 1996).
Aggression and bullying are symptoms of the deterioration and breakdown of the previously-working social order. It is no longer possible to believe that the materialistic approach to social and economic development, the conception to which the current social order has given rise, is capable of meeting humanity’s needs. In fact, the more material possessions people have, the less satisfaction they seem to feel. Optimistic forecasts about changes the materialistic approach will generate have vanished into the ever widening abyss that separates the living standards of a small and relatively diminishing minority of the world’s inhabitants from the poverty experienced by the vast majority of the globe’s population.
“Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people.” Garrison Keillor
The bullies need to be dealt with and the gentle people need protection. When one is a child those protections often come from a decent parent, teacher or caregiver. Where are the protections and protectors of society? How do we bring about the necessary changes that will profoundly heal the problems we see and advance humankind in a way that values the gentle people too? How do we retrain the bullies of life and contain their disagreeable tendencies?
It does not seem likely that the aggressors are going to stop trying to win and to take everyones’ money, health and well being. Greed, selfishness, lying and theft are terrible crimes committed against the majority of people. These crimes are representative of the immaturity of our society and the lack of laws and standards that protect the wellbeing of citizens. The pernicious attitudes of those exploiting so many others, whose injustice is tolerated with indifference and whose disproportionate gains are regarded as the emblem of success are formidable obstacles to altering the prevailing standards by which the relationships in this world are governed. Individual reflections on what is happening around the world need to change, but they are so influenced and controlled by the powers of dominance that the change needs to be more sweeping: a sea change.
This sea change must come about as a result of a collective change in our thinking about human nature. Who are we really? Many well-intentioned people are working to improve circumstances in society. The obstacles they face sometimes seem insurmountable due to erroneous assumptions about human nature. These assumptions are so enmeshed in the structures and traditions of present-day life that they have attained the status of established fact, are accepted as justification for humanity’s failings, and daily reinforce a common sense of despair. These assumptions appear to make no allowance for the extraordinary reservoir of spiritual potential available to any illumined soul who draws upon it. This thick veil of false premises obscures a fundamental truth: the state of the world reflects a distortion of the human spirit, not its essential nature.
Burdened by traditions of paternalism, prevailing religious thought has seemed incapable of translating faith in the spiritual dimensions of human nature into confidence in humanity's capacity to transcend material conditions. Such an attitude misses the significance of what is likely the most important social phenomenon of our time.
It is true that governments of the world are striving through the United Nations system to construct a new global order. It is equally true that the peoples of the world are galvanized by this same vision. Their response has blossomed into countless movements and organizations of social change at local, regional, and international levels. Human rights, the advance of women, the social requirements of sustainable economic development, the overcoming of prejudices, the moral education of children, literacy, primary health care, and a host of other vital concerns command the urgent advocacy of organizations supported by growing numbers in every part of the globe.
When the distortion of the human spirit lifts and human beings begin to see their own potential, they will not just make adjustments to the present order of the world. Once the consciousness of the human spirit recognizes the true meaning of the oneness of mankind, the results of that recognition, the spontaneous insight and clarity which includes the spiritual force, will result in a tremendous transformation and the human world will adapt itself to a new social form as willingly as the Greek Spartans adapted to theirs. This transformative spiritual power is available to all human beings regardless of belief.
Our true station is as spiritual beings, innately good, longing for unity and peace.
Can we do what Lycurgus did on a world scale and involve millions of people?
There certainly is a possibility if we are able to see the world as unified and all humankind as one people. If enough people around the world can comprehend this concept, we can solve our problems, certainly with different and more complex strategies, but also with the same vision and spirituality that Lycurgus used in solving the problems of Sparta.
In an address given at City Temple, London, England on September 10th, 1911,
‘Abdu’l Bahá Abbas, the son of the founder of the Baha’i’ Faith, stated:
“This is a new cycle of human power. All the horizons of the world are luminous, and the world will become indeed as a garden and a paradise. It is the hour of unity of the sons of men and of the drawing together of all races and all classes. You are loosed from ancient superstitions which have kept men ignorant, destroying the foundation of true humanity. The gift of God to this enlightened age is the knowledge of the oneness of mankind and of the fundamental oneness of religion. War shall cease between nations, and by the will of God the Most Great Peace shall come; the world will be seen as a new world, and all men will live as brothers.” (Abdu’l Baha’ In London, pg.19.)
This wonderful message of hope has yet to be heard by most people or put into practice by more than a few, other than those of the Baha’i’ Faith. Since that address one hundred years ago, scientists have come to prove that human beings are all related via the miracle of DNA studies. We now know with certainty that all humans on earth have come from a common ancestor and have gradually spread across the world. Scientists can even map the history of that migration. People can trace their family origins by having a DNA study done, which has proven instrumental in reducing racial discrimination as more and more people have learned of the mixture of races in their exposed backgrounds. In addition, in unbiased studies, religious scholars have found that all the major religions and teachings find agreement in their basic tenets and are as one religion, and those tenets have been revealed by various prophets, the great teachers and manifestations of the unknowable, incomprehensible and everlasting creative force which these religions name or call God.
What keeps this enlightened knowledge from being accepted? It seems the quest for material supremacy and power, greed and the baser instincts of the animal nature of humans: fear, prejudice, malice and selfishness to name a few. Basically we have each individual self acting willfully and perversely (selfish, greedy, power hungry), and at odds with the best impulses (generosity, concern for others, unity of all humankind, kindness, compassion and self-sacrifice) of this day.
The Baha’i’ view is that darkness of spirit (or evil), while real in its effect, is not the presence of something bad but is the absence of something good (for instance: the quickening light of inspiration that humanizes a soul with insight, compassion and character). In short: selfishness is the absence of generosity, greed is the absence of concern for others, and hunger for power is the absence of understanding of the unity of all humankind (and the interconnectedness of all life on earth).
Evidence of this transformative new beginning can be seen all around us. The evolution of human rights, beginning with the ending of slavery, women’s rights and suffrage, and the civil rights movement have changed America in a very short time. The evidence of change is not complete because the consciousness of the oneness of humanity is still not fully understood or accepted. However, the recognition of oneness is growing all the time.
The implications for oneness are great and varied. Not only does the human race need to recognize the oneness of mankind, but also the oneness of all creation and the implications of how that oneness affects everything we do. All people are one people: the family of man. Anything happens to one affects all. Once enlightened individuals begin to grasp the meaning of true oneness, the decisions about what to do to protect the environment will be self evident.
In the future, everyday interactions will be shaped by the consciousness of the oneness of humankind. Relationships imbued with this consciousness will be cultivated in villages and neighborhoods across the world. Most likely this consciousness will develop slowly and spontaneously and grow exponentially. Thoughtful consultation devoted to the common good will be responsibly practiced. This consultation is now taking place all over the world by those who understand and appreciate the blessing of diversity and the necessity for accepting the oneness of humankind. They respect the relatedness of everything we do in this world. They have respect for all beliefs because they understand the fundamental oneness of religion.
The relationship between the individual and society is a reciprocal one. The transformation now required must occur simultaneously within human consciousness and the structure of social institutions. It is in the opportunities afforded by this two-fold process of change that a strategy of global development will find its purpose. At this crucial stage of history, that purpose must be to establish enduring foundations on which planetary civilization can gradually take shape.(Adapted from, “The Prosperity of Humankind”,1995)
In conclusion: individual and collective greed harms mankind and keeps us from collective prosperity, greed leads to war, misery, poverty and war leads to misery poverty and greed; the money that has gone into war and destruction could be used to educate and change the world in a just way for all people. Unity leads to prosperity, peace and justice. Lycurgus led his people to unity, peace and justice thousands of years ago by showing strong and capable, compassionate leadership. Baha’u’llah describes our path for today and the Baha’i’ Faith continues to inspire people to understand oneness and unity in a way that starts with the person in his community being an active part of the changes needed in the world. In this age, each individual can create unity in his or her own life, and thus contribute to the advancement of humanity and the world.
“The morals of humanity must undergo change. New remedy and solution for human problems must be adopted. Human intellects themselves must change and be subject to the universal reformation. Just as the thoughts and hypotheses of past ages are fruitless today, likewise dogmas and codes of human invention are obsolete and barren of product in religion. Nay, it is true that they are the cause of enmity and conducive to strife in the world of humanity; war and bloodshed proceed from them and the oneness of mankind finds no recognition in their observance. Therefore it is our duty in this radiant century to investigate the essentials of divine religion, seek the realities underlying the oneness of the world of humanity and discover the source of fellowship and agreement which will unite mankind in the heavenly bond of love. This unity is the radiance of eternity, the divine spirituality, the effulgence of God and the bounty of the Kingdom. We must investigate the divine source of these heavenly bestowals and adhere unto them steadfastly. For if we remain fettered and restricted by human inventions and dogmas, day by day the world of mankind will be degraded, day by day warfare and strife will increase and satanic forces converge toward the destruction of the human race.” (Foundations of World Unity Author: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Source: US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979 sixth printing Page 28).
About the Author
Ann Hallock, M.S, L.C.S.W. is retired, a psychotherapist and former professor of behavioral medicine at Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, U.S.A.. She can be reached at email@example.com.