Loving and Just Civilization
The Central Role of Mutual Empowerment
We Can Create a Loving and Just Civilization
Can human beings create a civilization in which all people have the opportunity to live happy, fulfilled, empowered, and actualized lives (realizing their full potentials) and in which they
***** have optimal health of body and mind along with the confidence that they have the competence and power to sustain that optimal health, and
***** are connected harmoniously in life-affirming resonance with other people, with the natural world, and within themselves.
If we follow the trajectory of the path established, largely unconsciously, by humans during the past 16,000-plus years, will we create the civilization defined above?
We humans have created dominant institutions and adopted normative modes of individual behavior which threaten to destroy life on Earth, which increasingly disempower people, and which increasingly alienate people from others and from themselves. Fundamental change is required to set us on a different path, one with a different trajectory from the one we are now on.
How will that fundamental change occur?
We will engage in the practice of establishing and enhancing mutually empowering relationships which are based on behaviors which are life affirming. This practice will produce healthy individuals, loving relationships among people, and the transformation of life-negating institutions into life-affirming institutions.
Why have humans failed thus far to create this highly desirable civilization?
We have inherited institutions and behaviors which were derived largely unconsciously over thousands of years. These are predominantly life negating and disempowering. Collectively, to some extent, we already have become disempowered permitting doubt and cynicism to creep into our consciousness. We have knowledge today that permits us to engage in new learning which can transform those institutions and behaviors so that they are life affirming and empowering.
Even though sages over the past thousands of years have taught about enlightened beings and societies, human civilization today still falls far short of what they envisioned. What is different now?
As inspiring as much of the teachings of these sages is, for the most part these teachers did not know what we know today about behavior change. Some people have successfully followed the teaching of these sages and have lived loving lives of service. Nevertheless, the number of such people has been too small to result in these loving ways becoming sufficiently prevalent in our civilization. Today we can define practices for behavior change which are inherently rewarding and fulfilling and which, therefore, will be followed by most people. Those practices will be based in mutual empowerment and will be pursued in many forms of connection with others.
If people already feel essentially disempowered and consider the possibility of a loving, new civilization to be a fantasy/an unrealistic dream, isn’t it already too late to try to create this new civilization?
Individuals may or may not choose to focus explicitly on the goal of creating a new civilization. Minimally, and sufficiently, they will focus on achievable, rewarding, fulfilling incremental steps which will contribute to and change their lives. They will continue on this path, incremental step by incremental step, because with each step their lives will be filled with more life-affirming resonance and love with others. This process will be inherently rewarding and will produce an increase in power to create further change.
That response is not convincing to me. Maybe I could accept what you say if I thought our civilization had the time for that to happen. However, I don’t think we have the time. There are many reasons to believe that within the next five to two hundred years, human life on Earth will be wiped out through some kind of global disaster – ecological, natural, political, biological, social, or military.
You pose the challenge very well. There are two key parts to that challenge. First, I agree with you that the ecological, social, and economic trajectories which are likely given historical trends to this moment will probably result in one of the global disasters which you mention. While those disasters are not inevitable, the challenge to avert them is enormous and urgent.
Second, and perhaps the most important dynamic of all, it is possible that you cannot be convinced by what I have said above, because you have already become too disempowered or are very close to becoming so. Before going further with my response to this question, I offer a short piece from William James:
Suppose, for example that I am climbing in the Alps, and have had the ill-luck to work myself into a position from which the only escape is by a terrible leap. Being without similar experience, I have no evidence of my ability to perform it successfully; but hope and confidence in myself make me sure I shall not miss my aim, and nerve my feet to execute what without those subjective emotions would perhaps have been impossible.
But suppose that, on the contrary, the emotions of fear and mistrust preponderate ... -- why, then I shall hesitate so long that at last, exhausted and trembling, and launching myself in a moment of despair, I miss my foothold and roll into the abyss.
In this case ... the part of wisdom clearly is to believe what one desires; for the belief is one of the indispensable preliminary conditions of the realization of its object. There are then cases where faith creates its own verification. Believe, and you shall be right, for you shall
save yourself; doubt, and you shall again be right, for you shall perish. The only difference is that to believe is greatly to your advantage.
While there is much that could be discussed in this piece, I am offering it in the context of learning new, mutually empowering behaviors and ways of being as another way of posing your question regarding whether or not we have enough time. Or, still another way of asking whether there are sufficient numbers of us who have not already become too disempowered to meet the considerable challenge. I would be a fool to suggest that I have the answer to that question. And, you cite numerous examples, which I have to agree with, which give a great deal of evidence to suggest that we humans are irreversibly headed in the wrong direction – the path which will lead to our destruction.
We come to a very personal question – to the extent that we can determine and have the power to – how do we want to live our lives? We can strive to do our best, which because of our shortcomings may often not be very life-affirming, to live as if a world based in mutual empowerment is possible and to strive to contribute to that possibility. We keep facing new situations which present us with choices everyday. I am confident that most people want to choose life-affirmation. Being connected in mutually empowering relationships with others can help us find the power to make such choices when we feel individually disempowered.
What does mutual empowerment and a mutually empowering relationship look like?
In mutually empowering relationships different groupings of two or more people interact with each other in a wide variety of activities or purposes. They have an agreement or understanding that in pursuing these activities they will do so in life-affirming ways that enhance the fulfillment and empowerment of all involved. They express and manifest their thoughts and feelings truthfully and freely. They share a commitment to strive not to act in life-negating ways. For example, they strive not to shame, humiliate, or otherwise put down others. They strive not to express power over another person unless there is an understanding or agreement that such power over is appropriate in a given circumstance. Should someone be inclined to act in a life-negating way, there is an agreement among all parties to identify that action and to work together to find and learn alternative, life-affirming actions.
Yikes!!! Stop! OK, OK, I had a moment when I was willing to entertain the possibility that our world and my life could be significantly better than they are. I asked you some questions and you answered. And, then all you were saying seemed like some pretty heady stuff – mutual empowerment, agreements, understandings, life-affirming, life-negating, no put-downs – which seems just way out of touch with reality. This stuff just has no connection with my life. I’m a single mom busting my butt to make ends meet and get even a little bit of time with my kids. I’m a construction worker on a crew with some tough dudes; they’d laugh be out of town, if not worse, if I started talking about any of this stuff around them. I’m a pimply faced teenager trying like hell to be one of the in-crowd. I’m an illegal resident in this country, a low-wage worker with an abusive boss, a middle-level manager caught between an authoritarian boss and a work crew that’s ready to turn on me in an instant. I’m a successful person by just about all conventional measures and still feel a deep emptiness in my life – don’t talk to me about mutual empowerment. Am I being clear – you are not talking my language and are irrelevant to my life!
Wow! I hear you; believe me. Stick with me for a bit. Let’s see where we can go.
You asked me some initial questions which were perfect. They let me lay out in as few words as I could all that I wanted to say. I really don’t need to say any more. If you like, you can work with what I have already laid out in whatever way you find most pertinent to your life. The steps you choose to take may seem small; but, I assure you that they will make a difference that you will like.
I don’t want to get into the position of trying to convince you of anything. It is precisely because of the circumstances of your life and mine that I want us to join together to transform completely these power arrangements which are so stifling and strangling. What is the best scenario if fundamental change does not occur? – thousands of more years of injustice and oppression. What is the worst scenario without fundamental change? – we will by neglect or design bring about the destruction of human civilization.
We can bring about transformation or fundamental change regarding power without violence. Certainly, some of those people who currently express power over others will be reluctant and/or fearful to give up that power. We will give them the opportunity to join those of us who are committed to mutual empowerment. Many of them will experience the positive motivation to join with us. Some will not.
The combined power which results from our mutual empowerment will be unstoppable. We will take necessarily small steps so that we will succeed in this transformation and so that those who fear their loss of power over others will have the opportunity to have their fears mitigated. Many activists and thinkers have already demonstrated that such a transformation is possible. What we need to do now is to turn these initial manifestations into a movement.
If you know what you need to know right now to begin on this path of mutual empowerment, please get on with the actions that need to be taken. If you would like to know about some of the knowledge others have brought into my life which persuades me that life-affirming, mutually empowering relationships can bring about this transformation, I hope you will enjoy reading some or all of what follows.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.