The Cure for What Ails U.S. -
Become a Humilitarian
Gurus throughout the ages have told us, “What you resist persists.”
Christ, Buddha, or - if you prefer a more modern teacher, Krishnamurti or Neale Donald Walsch - have given us versions of that wisdom. It is a truism closely related to another: “what you focus on, you make bigger”. For a rendering closer to that one, try Tony Robbins or Zig Ziglar.
And if, as in American politics today, you’re resisting divisiveness and an aggressive “us vs. them” mentality that cares little about what happens to “them” because they are clearly less caring or smart than “us”, then rest assured that whatever (or whomever) you are resisting is feeding off your resistance.
You don’t fight fire with fire.
You smother it in water, or suffocate it by sucking all the air out of its vicinity.
Similarly, you don’t resist darkness.
You light a light.
And light doesn’t resist darkness, either. It just replaces it.
To quote another great man, Martin Luther King: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that."
You can’t resist darkness: you can only replace it. You can’t resist hate: you can only replace it with Love.
T’was ever thus. T’will ever be.
The darkness of Americans politics today has a few fundamental aspects. They include the impinging of people’s rights because of the groups they are identified with; the selective use and abuse of facts (or non-facts) to serve political agendas; and the assertion of moral and intellectual superiority by some over others.
All of those do warrant resisting. But while many of us would like to believe that it’s only our opponents who engage in such tactics, an increasing number of Americans are seeing that no part of the political spectrum or ideology has a monopoly on them.
They see fire being fought with fire, darkness being fought with darkness, and, therefore, well- intentioned efforts making things worse.
If today’s politics are the darkness, then what, and where, is the light?
What would a politics of Love look like?
It would look something like Love, itself.
And what’s that?
While that question can never be answered definitively, there are many things we know about it.
If you love someone - really love them in a healthy way - then you want for them what they want for themselves (with an obvious qualification around self-harm out of ignorance (as when a child who wants to play in the road) or pathology (as when a mentally ill person needs treatment)).
The three little words that really convey this sentiment are not, “I love you “, which can mean all kinds of things to all kinds of people, but, “As you wish”.
Love is kind, expansive, proactive, and fundamentally non-constraining. Its opposite, fear, is divisive, restrictive, and imposing on others to protect oneself.
What system or philosophy could possibly be Love, politicized, that treats everyone in a society like an individual treats his dearest friends or her closest relations - and more than that, makes it easy for everyone to do exactly that for everyone else?
The answer, and the only permanent way out of America’s malaise, is humilitarianism – which isn’t a political viewpoint at all. Rather, it’s a way of doing politics - humbly and with mutual respect.
It’s not progressive or conservative, libertarian or green.
To be humilitarian is to be any of those things, or none, but with the tribalism and self-righteousness stripped out.
It’s less a political position than a meta-political one: a way of engaging each other and actually “doing politics”.
It’s what 70% of America already knows that America needs, but hasn’t yet been positively formulated.
It’s time to do so.
Humilitarian People are Humble
- There’s something I don’t know, the knowing of which could change everything.
- I can judge ideas without judging people.
- The experiences of others are data. I don’t get to ignore them just because they don’t support my principles or beliefs. In fact, I should look for people and data that disagree with my views (just as in science) so that I can move closer to the truth.
- I should measure my compassion by the good that I do - not the strength of my intentions.
- When I don't have all the data, being precise or certain isn’t the same as being right.
- A moral commitment to improving lives must always be stronger than an ideological commitment to a particular way of doing so.
Humilitarian Interactions are Kind
- Different people have different moral intuitions. Justice requires that they are understood.
- Productive discourse depends on respectfully hearing out the other guy, genuinely trying to understand his views and motivations, and representing them as honestly as I can.
- If I disrespect my opponents, I don’t get to claim that I care more for others than they do.
- Someone with different principles from mine can be as principled as I.
Humilitarian Politics are Loving
- The only legitimate ends of politics are people.
- I dont know better than you what is best for you.
- “First, Do No Harm”, works in politics, too.
- The moral burden is on those who would use politics to impose
- Policies must be tested against human outcomes, and revised if the outcomes aren’t as expected.
- Politics must be conducted with enough humility to admit and put right unintended
consequences of policies.
- Policies shouldn’t target symptoms without understanding causes.
Being a Light in the Darkness Takes More than Being Right in the Wrongness.
Any humilitarian, whatever their political beliefs, is a light to America’s present darkness.
And by declaring themselves as such, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Independents, Greens, Christians, atheists, writers, gamers, broadcasters, waiters, home-makers, soldiers, politicians, employees, employers, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, can bring these fundamental values to the parties, societies, media, families, homes, churches, companies, and homes of which they are a part.
Humilitarians don’t have to agree with each other to recognize each other, because, in their humility and decency, they can judge ideas without judging each other.
What are the characteristics of Love that the “meta-political” humilitarian principles embody?
The Politics of Love
Love is inherently humble, from which characteristic humilitarianism takes its name. If you love someone, then you want to know what makes them happy, so Love listens. And it acts on what it hears. Love acknowledges that different people experience Love and life in different ways. Even when it hears something that seems misguided, wrong or even unloving, it doesn’t assume its own superiority or disregard what it hears as having nothing of value to teach.
Humilitarians understand that different people assign different moral and material values to ideas and things, and that these differences do not mean that they are inherently morally or intellectually inferior or superior.
Both Love and Humilitarianism refuse to aggress. Neither seeks to constrain another, except perhaps in an emergency, when someone’s life is in immediate danger, unperceived by the endangered party.
Love is concerned with consequences, seeking to improve itself and adjust when its well-intended actions are received badly. In other words, it cares and is responsive. That makes it empirical. There is no dogma or ideology of Love. There can be no formula. And so Love is not measured theoretically by some abstract or impersonal metric: rather, it is measured mostly by the experiences of those at whom it is directed.
Accordingly, humilitarians never forget that the primary purpose of politics and measure of policy are the genuine wellbeing of people - and the facilitation of our own and others’ self-realization.
Humilitarians, whether they be liberal, conservative, libertarian or progressive, measure their compassion and their effectiveness by the good that they do for everyone they affect, allowing each affected person their own metrics – and not by the strength of their intentions or the number of wins against their ideological opponents.
Humilitarians realize that they have a greater responsibility to look at all of the human outcomes that are caused by policy and to be humble (there it is again) enough to change policy and their ideological preferences when outcomes aren’t positive.
Love has myriad manifestations, flavors and expressions. It allows that imperfect people with various experiences can express it in ways that conflict with each other. But that doesn’t have to put the people themselves in conflict; nor does it mean that some of them are any less loving than others.
In our lives, we may love different people differently, and we may love the same people differently as they change, or as we change. Accordingly, humilitarianism recognizes the importance of sensitivity to context: an appreciation that different people, sub-cultures and traditions may emphasize different principles, evolve in different ways, or see different ways to get to the same ends.
Therefore, humilitarianism, like Love, gives the benefit of the doubt. A person’s commitment to a policy that someone else may feel harmed by doesn’t prove that that person is ill-intended. Rather, Love draws the most benign inference that best enables mutual understanding whenever there are various inferences to “choose” from. In other words, Love looks for the Good, not the bad, in others. That can sometimes be hard work. Those who Love do not divide against each other because their Love brings them to opposing conclusions in a few areas of their lives, and humilitarians take care not to divide among themselves or from others “on principle” just because they differ in how a principle can be best advanced by policy or manifest in a particular context. This is why humilitarianism is, like Love, unifying.
And Love’s unifying quality is served by its always being respectful. If there is any one thing whose loss has made American politics so toxic, it is respect. Respect is what makes giving the benefit of the doubt easy, and shortens the time to mutual understanding. It is most simply expressed in good manners and decency. It is what reminds us that “being right” doesn’t justify everything a person might say to another. Kindness, necessity and effectiveness should also be considered.
Love lets people follow their own path not only for the metaphysical reason that life is a journey, but also for the practical reason that judging someone for a mistake that they cannot perceive, while insisting that they comply with your judgment, always backfires, as it breeds resentment and alienation – the very stuff of American politics today.
Humilitarians, therefore, are respectful in the face of disagreements, even those that rest on obvious errors and ill-informed opinions. In particular, they recognize that part of being human is sometimes not to behave consistently with one’s values, the facts on the ground, or even oneself the day before.
Whether we like it or not, all reasoning is motivated – including our own. Humilitarians treat the mistaken with respect because they know they too are mistaken sometimes. And this respect offers the practical benefit of opening the minds of those with whom one disagrees to one’s ideas when they are ready to hear them. Humilitarians do politics in a way that recognizes their own imperfections and the huge amount they have yet to learn. Their humility and openness make it safe for others, including their political opponents, to address contentious issues in the same spirit, preventing division and fear of “the other”.
Humilitarians always remember that what they don’t know may have a greater effect on the outcomes of the policies they support than what they do know. (Can one ever be sure that’s not the case?) So they tread carefully.
Finally, Love cares, and that means making principled compromises without compromising principles.
Those who Love go out of their way to ensure that their interactions with their beloved are fair, not just in their own sense of fairness but also, whenever possible, in a way that is judged as fair by their Beloved. That always means letting the other speak – and genuinely trying to understand what he’s saying and why he’s saying it - not out of obligation, but out of a genuine desire to connect.
Love acts to replace division, condescension, and aggression, with their opposites.
To change American politics, you must be a light in the darkness – not just right in the wrongness.
So don’t wait for politics to change and bemoan it in the meanwhile.
Instead, declare yourself a humilitarian.
Be progressive, conservative, libertarian or anything else. Stay in whatever political party you currently identify with. But whatever else you believe, declare that the best way to change politics, each other and the world, is to follow Ghandi’s famous phrase: to “be the change you seek”.
Declare yourself a humilitarian to let others know that whatever else they believe, and whatever you may disagree with them on, when they speak to you, they will get less division not more; they will get a genuine attempt at a shared solution, not a zero-sum argument were one of you proves the other wrong; they will get someone, in other words, who is motivated by understanding “the other”, and finding solutions that work for them too.
By the simple act of declaration, we can create thousands of humilitarian Republicans, humilitarian Democrats, humilitarian Libertarians, humilitarian Greens, humilitarian Independents, etc., all coming together in the knowledge that the values that unite them as humilitarians are more powerful than their differences of political opinion. More powerful, because those turn their sincere differences from sources of mistrust and darkness to the starting points on millions of journeys toward mutual understanding and light.
The problem is not “them”, whoever you think “they” are. Rather, it is the very idea that politics is about “us vs. them” at all.
You see, there is no them unless we keep making it so.
So what will it be — more division dressed up as resistance against those who seek to divide?
Or a coming together of humilitarians on every side of every issue – and a coming together of America?
You don’t have to wait for America to get better, because America is you.