In an April 4, 2010 interview with CNN, Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights leader and friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said that, “We are missing the moral leader of America who had emerged not just the moral leader of America but of the world.” Now he did say this on the anniversary of King’s death and yet something about his statement struck a chord for me. I wonder what the world would/could look like if we stopped thinking in these absolutes that are far from absolute?
When it comes down to words, moral is a tough one. It is up there with words like good, bad, right, wrong, truth, lie, terrorist or freedom fighter. All of these words are subjective to one’s own beliefs. We can never truly have the moral leader unless everyone agrees with a universal definition of moral and that will never happen. We also don’t have definitions or clear guidelines with words like right, wrong, good, bad, etc. All of these words change by person, time, or place. What is right for some isn’t right for all. What is moral to some is immoral to others. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right? Who gets to make these calls?
These words are really just a part of our language that stems from our system of punishment and reward. Those that are good, right, or moral deserve reward and those who are bad, wrong or immoral deserve punishment or pity. The issue remains that these things are arbitrary and get us no closer to what is really going on with people or ourselves or how to meet their real human needs. Sadly, these system are the source of much of the violence on our planet that I wish to change.
I get what Rep. Lewis is saying and yet I disagree with his strategy to meet the need. In the past, we have had leaders like King, Gandhi, Chavez, and others who are my hero’s in life and yet not everyone agreed they were moral, truthful, or right. The lines between what is right or wrong, what is good or bad, what is moral or immoral are a bit thin and at best, shaky. How can we have a moral leader if we can’t even decide what is moral? Who would he lead but those who agree with his version of moral? I believe a leader has to lead everyone not just those who agree with him.
I propose we stop thinking in terms that don’t work for all of us and start looking at things more universal to all of us. Lets start thinking about what connects us rather than what put us into boxes based on what we deserve, like good or bad, right or wrong, moral or immoral. All of these terms are just code for what we think people deserve. Let’s start thinking in terms of universal human needs!
Human needs cross all the barriers whether it be race, age, religion, sexual orientation, or culture. All humans have the same needs. Why not evaluate things based on how well they are meeting universal human needs rather than what we think people deserve. I might say to Mr. Lewis, stop caring about “WHAT” people “ARE” like moral or immoral, good or bad, right or wrong since those thing are so fuzzy and start thinking in terms of how those same people’s universal human needs are being met or not met.
When you really stop and think about it, there are no human needs that are negative or positive needs. It is hard to think of food, shelter, creativity, safety, spirituality or rest as positive or negative, good or bad. They just are, right? So if, like psychology says, we are all just out to meet our needs, then there are no actions that are negative or positive if we evaluate how well they meet human needs. In simple terms, even if the strategy you chose wasn’t effective, the goal was to meet a human need. There were other choices, strategies that could have been chosen that could meet the same need at less cost to others.
The thing about needs is that psychologist have been telling us for decades that all human behavior is in the service of needs, yet we live in a society that tells us having needs is weak or too touchy or mushy. How do we live past the contradiction of what our language allows and what science has discovered to work? How do we get back in touch with our human authentic selves?
I know Rep. Lewis wants the same things I want….human needs met. I bet he wants his needs for harmony and peace met. I bet he also wants his needs for congruency with his faith met too! I bet he would like his need for respect for life to be met. I can respect those needs because I have them too, we all do! That is what connects us as humans, our needs! We can understand each other much better when we see that we are all after the same things…..getting our needs met…
Again, I ask you to stop looking for a moral leader and look for a leader who can understand what will really meet human needs and open to all the strategies available to do that. I ask that we stop looking for people to do the right thing (assuming we can get past the arbitrary right or wrong) and look to do what contributes to human needs being met. Stop worrying if our actions are aligned with a political party or church and ask to these actions contribute to life? Do they meet universal human needs?
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"Be the change you wish to see in the world"
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
Martin Luther King Jr.
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