Scrapping the Presumption of Basic Rightness
Bin Laden like you and me?
How are Osama bin Laden and your angry, screaming boss alike? Answer: They both did what they did under the assumption that they were fully justified in doing it. In this way, most people are like bin Laden (please hear me out before the flames begin). We all just presume we are fully justified in what we think, feel, and do. Occasionally we really are right and everything works out fine (at least for us, that is). Often we are wrong and everyone knows it except us, and we make a huge mess (which of course we will often blame others for). In bin Laden’s case, he was wrong and thousands of people died.
The Problem is Ignorance
The difference is only in degree, but this prevailing assumption of basic personal rightness IS the problem in the world. This presumption simply cannot be correct. We know there is vastly more evil in the world than we can find people to take responsibility for. That means a great many people doing evil either do not believe or do not see that what they are doing is evil. Either way, the problem is ignorance.
We see ignorance also in the fact that people do evil because they nearly always feel justified in doing it in this particular case. They also feel justified in declaring quite consistently (and often with great self-righteousness) that the reasons others do evil are not convincing or compelling. “My evil is excusable, but yours is not, and the problem with the world is people who do evil that is inexcusable.” The cycle only stops when you realize that you in fact are one of those people who does inexcusable evil. Each of us must come to where we can say, ‘”The most inexcusable evil in the world is the evil that I do, because I’m the only person on the planet who can stop it, and I simply choose not to.” And we choose not to because we presume that we are, after all, right. This is — simply — ignorant.
If this presumption of basic personal rightness is not constantly challenged, then you may do great good in the world, or great evil, but you will do whatever you do out of this basic ignorance. This explains why there is a pecking order in prison. Everybody compares themselves to somebody else so they can feel a little “righter.” The crooks look down on the rapists, who look down on the murderers, who look down on the child molesters — “At least I’m not as bad as THAT guy.” Everybody — behind bars and otherwise, is on a crusade to be better than somebody else. [This, of course, is what the Bible is countering when it says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)] The world will NEVER be a place of peace until we stop doing this. And we cannot stop doing it as long as we live in ignorance. The way we stop living in ignorance is to learn to be present.
When we learn to be present, the error that is present in our myths of basic personal rightness will begin to become clear. I’ll address presence in my next post.