“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche
Fredrick Nietzsche tells us that fighting monsters can turn us into monsters ourselves when staring long enough into the abyss. Nietzche’s right. Hatred and aggression perpetuates more hatred and aggression. So instead, we should never perceive our fellow humans as monsters, but should treat them with dignity and respect. And instead of seeing disagreement as “fights,” a metaphor that promotes conflict, we should regard them as opportunities to learn. If we model the attitudes and behaviors we wish to see in others, more positive outcomes are apt to occur when our would-be adversaries begin looking back at us.
I recently posted a questionnaire on various Facebook political groups asking for a single root cause to the major problems in our world. In response, many claimed the root cause to be human greed. They were quick to target the wealthy in our country as the primary culprits — the top one percent of our population in terms of economic affluence and wealth. Yet, if we examine the lives of these “one percenters,” we find that most are caring individuals with families they cherish just like you and me. The difference, of course, is that many were not self-made, but grew up in a culture of privilege and opportunity. They were taught at a young age to become self-reliant and rugged individualists, where personal achievement defines their self-worth and is the highest ideal. Where winning reigns supreme over anything else, even at the expense of others. They grew up in a culture where Ayn Rand and Libertarian philosophy justify their worldview and their actions. Even when they appear to be altruistic, they often do it with selfish intent, primarily to edify themselves. It’s a way of thinking and lifestyle that is foreign to us. And neither do they understand the lives we lead.
Most of the one percent were born into their self-serving culture. So, by no fault of their own, they have learned bad habits and have been conditioned to behave in a manner that ignores the welfare of others. In their minds, they are not concocting evil plans. Their opportunism, self-centeredness, and ambition have been forged by observing role models, by being taught and learning the culture’s code of ethics, by defining their heroes within the culture, by seeking acceptance and approval from within the culture, and with expectations to excel under extreme pressure to perform at a high level. And yes, they do bad things, but they do them because they have been misguided, not because they are innately bad people.
Members of the one percent are not evil, but they are ego-centric, opportunistic and apathetic toward others. Sound familiar? Unless you are Mother Teresa, I suggest looking in the mirror and asking yourself: “If I were born into the world of the one percent, how would I behave?” Now I don’t know about you, but most of us would gladly fall in line and not look back. How many times have you wished to have been born with a “silver spoon” in your mouth? How many times have you said, “If only my parents had been wealthy?”
If members of the one percent can learn to be selfish, they can also unlearn their selfish behavior in the same way an addict unlearns his bad habits. If we don’t believe this, and if there are too many others out there like us, such lack of faith in the human spirit will be the death knell of humanity.
If we show disrespect toward one percenters, how does this encourage their willingness come to the table and negotiate with us? We must treat one another with respect. Only then can we work together to make positive change.
But here’s the key: If we don’t try to understand the goodness in one percenters, we will never expect goodness from them. And if we never expect goodness from the one percent, then positive change will never occur. Seeing the one percent as human means we are generally all the same. Trusting our common goodness encourages us to begin negotiations. And once we begin our dialogue with an attitude on mutual respect and goodwill, we are more apt to conduct ourselves with diplomacy and grace.
So to believe the one percent is causing all our problems oversimplifies a very complex dynamic. This stereotype creates an inaccurate profile, and it impedes our ability to communicate in a manner that inspires positive change. Rather, let’s begin seeing one another as human, no matter the race, culture, religion, or socioeconomic strata. If we do this, our behavior will encourage interaction that leads to mutual understanding. Only then will we be able to work together to change our world for the better.