Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Compassion and Cages

“You can do what you decide to do — but you cannot decide what you will decide to do.” 
― Sam HarrisFree Will

Gods know I'm as guilty as anyone else, so I don't excuse myself in the words that follow. This article is just as much for me as it is for anyone reading it.

We need, collectively, to be able to demonstrate compassion to those with whom we strongly disagree. That compassion is born of, among other things, understanding that, to a large extent, each of us is the product of our experiences and environment.

I do believe that there are deeper forces at play in who we are and who we eventually become, but for the sake of the discussion that follows, experience and environment are enough.

The beliefs, perspectives, and values we carry are, to a greater or lesser extent, the product of our culture and upbringing. Like a fish in a lake, our culture is the very substance wherein we live and move, to such an extent that we are often blind to its existence around, or impact on, us.

The cultural realities we have come to accept are not revealed truth, they are merely relative realities that would have been completely different had we been born and raised in a different time and place. For the most part, we are who we are because of when and where we are. That may be an uncomfortable truth, but truth it is.

If we can but realize this, we will realize that we needn't hate those with whom we disagree. We can wholly reject another's principles, values, beliefs, and ideals while still recognizing, as they say, "but for the grace of God go I." We may have been those who are the targets of our scorn, mockery, and ire, if only we had their life experience or lived within the confines of their paradigm.

This recognition does not completely lift the onus of an individual's responsibility or agency. Instead, by recognizing that we are, in many ways, the product of our time and place, we are able to be more cognizant of the limits of responsibility and agency in regards to what we believe.

Free will is only operative within the constraints of culturally prescribed boundaries. Because most of humanity is not composed of visionaries, mystics, artists, etc., those who seem to be able to see beyond the limits of culture and time, it behooves us to accept the limits of most individuals' capacities to exercise what we commonly refer to as free will.

Only those who can see the confines of the cage within which they live can exercise the choice to choose freedom. One cannot escape a prison one fails to recognize.

Culture, traditions, religions, etc. are all, in a manner of speaking, cages. At different times in our lives any of these structures are not only useful, they are necessary to provide the stability needed for healthy growth within a culture. However, it is one thing to know and accept the boundaries of a cage that are at variance comforting, helpful, and stabilizing, it is entirely something else to believe that one's preferred structure is universally valid or divinely mandated truth for all people at all times.

Recognizing that until we reach a very refined level of awareness, a level of awareness wherein a chosen structure becomes recognized for the purely aesthetic choice it is (as opposed to the vessel of certainty and truth we once accepted it to be) we are all bound to a greater or lesser extent within our personal cage. This awareness, that we too are bound, can be a source of profound understanding and compassion.

If you or I are not, yet, fully free, then we cannot expect those with whom we have strong disagreement to be fully free of blinders, limitations and boundaries (ie. their cage) either. Our political and ideological enemies are merely trapped in cage different from our own.

However, despite strenuous and valid philosophical/Ideological conflict with those with whom we share little in terms of values and vision, we needn't hate those who wish us to share their cage because, for them, that cage is the only world they know.

Reject the cage, even hate the cage, but we needn't hate those trapped within.

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