In the Christian Bible, it says that a man is not defiled by what goes into his mouth, but by what comes out of it. I'm not a Christian and haven't been for some time, but I cannot argue the wisdom of this statement. I cannot help but agree that it is one's words and actions that speak one's character.
Every day, every moment, we have the option to be kind or to be cruel, to be rude or polite, to be thoughtful or to be callous. There isn't any magic to it. There's no tricks. You may have predispositions based upon upbringing, environment or even genetics, but ultimately your choices are your own.
So theoretically, we could all wake up tomorrow and stop being jerks to each other.
I'm not saying that every individual who reads this is a jerk. I'm not saying any of you are jerks, or even that you've done something jerk-like to your fellow man today. But I know that I have, from time to time. I know that there's a lot of stuff that people do, on every scale from personal to global, that is less than courteous. I know that we cut people off in traffic, make fun of them behind their backs, denounce them for political or financial gain, hit them, kill them, wage war against them, seek to control and manipulate them; and I say "we" as a member of the human race.
And the pain of it all is we don't have to. These are acts of will. We could all wake up tomorrow and decide "I'm not going to harm, degrade or take advantage of anyone in my circle of influence today". Furthermore, we could decide that if we see something wrong, we would do whatever it takes to make it right. And we could follow through on this.
Sure, we might have to come to agreement on what is right. As much as the various systems of doctrine, ethics and morals that exist in the realm of human philosophy might differ, I'm pretty sure we could come to an agreement on some basics, then just make sure that those happen. Make sure no one goes hungry or goes to bed without shelter. Make sure the sick are tended to and the old not forgotten.
There's enough resources in the world for everyone to have all of what they need and maybe even a good bit of what they want. But if we could make sure that everyone had what they needed first, the world could be a lot better place.
The environment, the social ecosystem I'm describing, is a fragile one. All it takes is for enough people to mark those doing the right thing as suckers, to take advantage of them, and it crumbles. If our leaders would follow this policy, that would help, but it would fail without enough support from the population. It would take nearly the whole world, if not the entirety of the whole world, to agree on this and make it happen.
I know what I'm describing is a practical impossibility, an ideal. But if one does not seek after an ideal, after perfection, one accepts mediocrity as the goal. I'd rather shoot for the former and narrowly miss than seek the latter and miss that.
Nothing I say here is new. It has been the goal of philosophers and dreamers for as long as they have been able to articulate. It is the goal of anyone who designs a system of government, a society or a way of life. It has been achieved, I think, but only for a short time and only in small group; those that have, I imagine, remember the collapse better than the success.
But, in the United States, I see my countrymen divided. I see us call each other ugly names. I see people speak in violent rhetoric and veiled threats. I see my leaders bicker over whose personal moral code should be the basis for the law of the people, redefining reality to suit their pious opinions. I see my neighbors worried that they're not going to make it through to the next year with any sort of comfort.
I see hate and disgust used as selling points. I see very few people speak of compassion, save trying to co-opt the concept as part of their brand.
We live in a country where seven people being shot for being in the wrong place at the wrong time barely makes us bat an eye, but where seeing one person die for being in the wrong place at the wrong time can turn us into a lynch mob. We live in a world where people blow themselves up, kill indiscriminately, because they are convinced their god will find their actions worthy of reward. We live at a time of flux and precariousness, but where our team winning is often more important to us than our team being just.
We can do better, I know we can.
So I ask you: What if tomorrow, we woke up and decided not to be jerks? Could the world really be a better place? Can we at least try?
Because what we're doing now... it ain't working too good.