I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them. – Baruch Spinoza
What does that mean?
I like this quote, and have tried to live by it even before I heard it, at least as I understand it. To me, this quote is asking us not to judge. That’s what laughing (not the funny ha-ha laughter) at someone is. Weeping at human actions is also a judgement. So is hatred of them or their actions.
In judging, we are taking our values and imposing them on the actions of another. How well will that work if they have differing values? To me, that is the folly of judging others by our standards. What they do may make sense intellectually as well as morally to them, within their values.
This quote ends by urging us to work to understand their actions and, I would presume, their motivations and values. That doesn’t mean we have to accept them, but if we understand them, we can better work with them, or if necessary, fight against them.
Why is understanding important?
If you want someone to stop doing something, does it help to understand why they do it in the first place? Once you know why they do it, you can better help them understand why it’s not a great way to get what they want, and help them find a better way to get what they want.
This is a great way to help kids learn. It is also useful to help adults from other cultures understand how their behavior is inappropriate in your culture. The key is helping them find a way that still gets them what they desire without breaking social rules, right?
The key to being able to do this is understanding them, their desires, and what drives them. Otherwise you might mistake what they are doing for what they desire. If you do that, you will miss the point entirely. How, from that misinformed position, will you ever be able to help them?
Where can I apply this in my life?
Note this is not an excuse for others to say that it’s their values and their rules. As a society, we need to have a common framework of values. While some room for differences is useful, there must be a limit, or society will break down.
There must be some common rules, and there must be consequences for breaking them, regardless of what the individual might consider to be their values. Consider a person who believes in ritual human sacrifice. Should they be allowed to practice their beliefs, to live by their values? I would say not.
These situations have occurred throughout history. Any time there has been a mass migration, there have been problems of assimilation. Look at most of the major US cities. Each one has a China Town, a Little Italy and other ethnic enclaves peacefully coexisting.
This diversity can be a great thing, if the people want the same thing as the rest of society. As long as the general values align, things go well. There will be differences, and that’s not bad, so long as things aren’t allowed to become to divergent from the mainstream.
There are places in the world where that has become a problem, where distrust and intolerance have become commonplace. Most people want to be left alone and to be happy. However, the methods used to attain these things are radically different.
Without understanding each other, conflict is certain. By understanding each other, we might, just might, be able to resolve our differences without spilling blood. But that’s enough of me talking, the point of this section is figuring out how can you help.
Given the exposition in the paragraphs above, I hope you have some hints. I try to understand people who do things I consider odd. Partly because I do odd things myself, so I try to cut them a little slack. Partly because I am insatiably curious.
By asking questions, I can try to understand why they are doing what they are doing. Once we understand the motivations and goals, we stand a chance of figuring out how to better accomplish the task and stay within acceptable social guidelines. It’s not always easy.
And it isn’t always with children or foreigners. I have done things like this with co-workers and friends. It can be an interesting view behind the curtain, if you can get the other person to trust you. It can be as simple as a childhood phobia or a superstition, or it can be much worse.
The point is we have to understand before we can help. That doesn’t mean we cannot intervene when danger exists. But until we understand, we cannot reach them and get them to change, for they are the only ones who can change themselves.
From: Twitter, @philo_quotes
confirmed at : http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/baruchspin387348.html
Photo by Danny Choo