I am working on a blog post right now about how to know when we are being mistreated by other people. I hope to publish it this weekend. (I finished! You can read it here.) To know if we are being mistreated, it seems like we must know a few basic principles about what it means to be a human being.
So, in anticipation of my post later this weekend, I have developed Ten Principles of Being Human.
One: Each of us possesses a unique view of the world.
Each of us develops a unique view of the world that is influenced by factors like our birthplace, family of origin, gender, sex, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and religion (or lack thereof). Our perspective is conditioned by the original community we grew up in. This perspective gives us an understanding of the world that very few other people possess. (And NO ONE else possesses our exact view of the world.)
Note that our unique view is conditioned by both communal and individual influences.
Two: Our unique view of the world is special and important, but it is limited.
Our unique view adds something important to the world, but it is also necessarily limited. For instance, I am a white woman who grew up in a Quaker middle-class, college-educated family in Portland, Oregon. I have some pretty cool insight into the world because of this perspective, but my view is also pretty limited.
For instance, I don’t know what it is like to be a black woman who grew up in a wealthy family in Los Angeles or an Appalachian man who grew up in a working class family in West Virginia. I can try to understand the perspectives of these individuals and learn a great deal about their lives. But, of course, I cannot intimately understand what their life is like and the challenges they face—not at the level that they understand it.
Three: No one possesses total knowledge about anything in the world.
That we have a limited perspectives suggests that there is a great deal about the world that we do not understand or know about, and we may never understand or know it. There is no way in my one lifetime that I can possibly learn what it is like to live life from all the unique perspectives in the world. There is also no way, in my one lifetime, that I can learn all (or even half) of the knowledge, skills, and emotional lessons there are to learn in the world.
Four: Given our limited knowledge, some mistakes and failures are unavoidable and even encouraged. We learn, grow, and move towards greater truth through these failures.
We must constantly navigate a world about which there is so much we don’t know. And we must navigate this world with many different people about whom there is so much we don’t know or understand. This means that we often navigate our world with a type of mental blindness, and this entails we are going to make a lot of mistakes and even fail a lot. This is a necessary part of what it means to be a human and to grow.
Five: Because we cannot be perfect, all we are required to do is act with the intention of love.
We should not blame ourselves for unavoidable mistakes and failures. We are not required to be perfect or to know everything. All we are required to do is to act with the intention of love, which is the desire to nurture the good in ourselves and others and heal the wounded in ourselves and others (as is reasonable and appropriate).
Six: Acting with the intention of love requires that we respect other people and listen to their perspective.
Because there is so much we do not understand about others, the only way we can truly love them is to listen to their perspective and try to understand them. We cannot decide in abstraction what is best for another person. We can only do it through dialogue with them, acting with the intention of love, based on the information we receive from them, and being teachable when we make mistakes.
Seven: No one can live our life for us. Each of us must take responsibility to act with the intention of love.
No one can make the final decision for us about how we should act based on the information we receive. We are responsible for our own final decision, and we must embrace that responsibility, act with the intention of love, and learn from our mistakes.
We also cannot live other people’s lives for them. We will fail miserably if we try to do so.
Eight: The more we act with the intention of love, the more we develop moral autonomy
The more we embrace the responsibility of acting with the intention of love, the more we develop moral autonomy*, which is the ability to act with the intention of love wisely and well in a way that respects other people’s moral autonomy.
Nine: The more all act on moral autonomy, the more loving and powerful we make the world, which leads to moral community.
The more we act with moral autonomy, the more respect, kindness, and compassion we bring into our individual lives and our social institutions. This creates a loving and powerful moral community.
Ten: Our goal in all our relationships should be to nurture the moral autonomy of ourselves and other people.
Our goal in all our relationships should be to nurture and encourage people’s moral autonomy. The opposite of encouraging moral autonomy is to encourage disintegration, mental enslavement, or chaotic functioning. These ways of living in the world encourage the disintegration of community.
In my upcoming post “How to Know When People are Mistreating You”, I will write about how people consciously or unconsciously mistreat us in a way that encourages disintegration, mental enslavement, or chaotic functioning.
*When I use the term autonomy, I do not imply that a person’s moral autonomy arises in a vacuum, wholly independent of other people. Remember that at the beginning of this piece, I suggested that a person’s unique worldview arises from a unique community he or she is born into. This community certainly conditions a person’s view of the world, but a person’s view is also inevitably influenced by her (or his) response to this community. Therefore, moral autonomy arises through a combination of communal and individual influences, and autonomy also has individual and communal consequences.
 While the specific articulation of each of these principles is original with me, I am indebted to the work of Rousseau, Kant, Paulo Freire, and bell hooks for informing the ideas behind these principles.
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How to Know When You are Being Mistreated