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Third Maxim

My third maxim is: “We are all equals.”

This maxim is intended to serve as a reminder to stay grounded.  There’s no harm in being proud of yourself and celebrating your own successes.  The line between ‘proud‘ and ‘arrogant‘ or ‘condescending‘, however, can be easy to cross unknowingly.  There’s also no harm in taking responsibility when you’ve done something you’re not proud of.  Taking that to the extreme though and labeling yourself as an overall bad person as a result of your actions is being too hard on yourself, and ignoring the fact that everyone makes mistakes.

Here are a few examples of scenarios where this maxim is relevant:

[Scenario #1]

  • Lets say that through hard work and perseverance, you’ve obtained high-demand degree with a near-perfect GPA at a prestigious school and landed yourself a nice high-paying job.  Those are all things that you should be proud of.  Be careful though when comparing yourself to others.  Perhaps you find that due to your own experiences, you’ve got a gut reaction to think “wow, this person has a low GPA – they must’ve slacked off in college” or “wow, this person has a dead-end minimum wage job – they must’ve wasted their education on a low-demand degree”.  Both of these trains of thought are arrogant and presumptuous:
    • Assuming that someone slacked off in college is exactly that – an assumption.  Perhaps they truly applied themselves, but due to lack of natural talent in the subject matter they didn’t end up with the GPA they desired.  Or perhaps they were forced (by their parents) into a degree that they found no pleasure in, and hence didn’t end up applying themselves.  Or perhaps they’re just naturally a more laid-back type, or the style of education at modern colleges did not fit well with their style of learning.
    • With regards to the minimum wage job – once again the issue here is that you are making an assumption.  Even if you’re right and the person obtained a low-demand degree, there is nothing inherently wrong with that.  You should not criticize someone for pursuing something that they enjoy.  Additionally, not everyone has the same opinion as you when it comes to jobs.  Perhaps some people see jobs as a way of deriving enjoyment and satisfaction (and hence pursued a degree based on what they find enjoyable/satisfying).  Perhaps other people see jobs as a means to an end (a.k.a survival), and prefer to dedicate their personal time to find their enjoyment/satisfaction.  These latter people may pursue a degree strictly based on what is in high-demand at the time.
    • One last statement – people are better at different things.  Sometimes a person will luck out and their natural talents both (1) bring them enjoyment/satisfaction and (2) are in high-demand in today’s economic climate.  That’s certainly not always the case, however.  Just because you ‘lucked out’ so to speak does not give you any right to look down on others who did not meet the two criteria above as you did.  Perhaps one discovers at a young age that they’re really good at recalling exact dates / times of specific events – but they find that (1) this only really benefits them in your history-related classes, and (2) that they don’t particularly enjoy history class.  So now they’re left with a tough decision.  Who is to say what the right decision is?  Also, who is to say that their talent is any more/less valuable than yours?

[Scenario #2]

  • Lets say that you’ve done some things that you weren’t proud of.  Perhaps when you were younger you bullied some of your peers and ended up getting suspended as a result.  Lets say that even now (presumably many years later) you reflect back on the bullying and you conclude that (1) the bullying was a terrible thing to do, and that as a result (2) you are a bad person who can’t be trusted not to bully people in the future.  I’d argue that you’re being too hard on yourself.
    • Actions in themselves can be judged as bad or good, perhaps just on the standard that the action is causing an overall increase or decrease in the happiness of a population.  Recognizing that bullying was a bad thing is a positive thing.  Many people perform wrongful actions without even realizing it – the fact that you’re becoming more responsible and mindful is a good thing (and goes in-line with the previous two Maxims!).  Think of it this way – would you rather be the bully who doesn’t think they’ve done anything wrong, or would you rather be the bully who has admitted their faults and possibly taken corrective action to avoid bullying in the future?
    • As I discussed in a previous blog post, it’s generally not meaningful for a human to make a judgment on another human as a whole.  If you’ve performed a harmful action (such as bullying), or if you’ve observed someone else perform a harmful action – it’s incorrect to make a judgment that you (or others) are a bad person as a result.  Upbringing, environment, genetics, etc. can all come in to play when it comes to determining a person’s actions.  While the actions themselves can be fairly objectively marked as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – the person behind the actions cannot be so simply marked in such a fashion.  If you had a person who bullied his peers as a child, but then went on later in life to make amends with his ‘victims’ and then proceed to have a markedly fulfilling life that had an overall positive impact on society – would you still mark them as a bad person?  You should not be so hard on yourself.  Everyone is bound to make mistakes, and everyone is bound to take actions that they’re not proud of.

[Scenario #3]

  • Lets say that you’re at work, and a particular co-worker seems to be under-performing when compared to the rest of the bunch.  Perhaps as a result, this particular co-worker becomes the butt of many jokes and such – with a lot of people talking behind their back about how they’re lazy, or when one of the other coworkers messes up, they start calling it “pulling a <insert name of under-performing co-worker here>“.  This behavior is also unacceptable when you look at it from the aspect that we’re all equals.  Here are a few justifications:
    • Once again, just because the co-worker is under-performing does not imply that its due to lack of effort.  As stated before – not everyone has the same set of talents.  In a different job, perhaps you’d look like the under-performer while your co-worker would be able to complete their job effortlessly.  You may say “well, if the co-worker would be more effective at another job – why don’t they just change jobs?” – to which I remind you that not everyone’s talents are in high demand.  Maybe they want to be moved to a new position and they just haven’t found the opportunity yet due to low demand.
    • Generally – pointing out someone else’s flaws is a reflection of one’s own flaws.  When you see that a co-worker is under-performing and you accuse them of being intentionally lazy – that’s telling.  It means that when you think of under-performing, that your natural inclination is to think “well if I was under-performing, it’d likely be due to my own intentional laziness” and not something like “well maybe he’s going through a rough time at home, so maybe I shouldn’t make assumptions” or “maybe he’s caught spinning his wheels on something – perhaps I could help walk him through it”.

[Scenario #4]

  • Lets say that you’ve recently participated in an election, and as a result of the election you’re making broad generalizations about the other non-party members.  In addition, lets say that as a result of the election – the two parties are obstructing each other’s progress strictly based on the principle that “other party = evil” and not actually based on the merits of each party’s proposals.  Lets go beyond that even and say that the media is further fanning the flames by constantly posing stories from the perspective of party1 vs. party2 making it look like an ongoing battle between the two parties, which is further dividing the population.  Lets keep going with this idea even further and say that it’s gotten to the point that even if people don’t fully identify with either party1 or party2, they feel the need to – as the support for party1 and party2 completely negates any possibility of a third party arising.
    • In this case, both members of party1 and party2 are forgetting the key fact that humans are equals.  In general – people have the same overarching goals.  People want to live happy, healthy, meaningful lives.  When you’ve got a massive country, it’s expected that you’ll have many different people of different backgrounds, opinions, and livelihoods.  If you’re going to find a set of policies that satisfies everyone, it’s likely going to involve a compromise among the various groups.  You’re never going to find a mutually-agreeable compromise when the population is divided.
    • Looking at the options of (1) having two parties acting in disarray, actively blocking each other vs. (2) having two parties that act in unison to find compromises for the betterment of mankind – it’s clear that the second option is preferable.  Finding workable, and mutually-amenable solutions to problems is a lot easier when there’s a cooperative environment.  Not to mention – long-term solutions generally require slow thought and deliberation (remember Maxim #2!).  When you’ve got parties that would rather stick to their principles – or parties that are more focused on making the other party fail and/or look bad – then you’ve got a country with major issues.
    • Division tactics have been used a lot (whether it be unintentionally or intentionally) in the past in order to create divisions in populations for the purpose of control.  When you find yourself focusing on other humans or groups of humans as the enemy – you should ask yourself who benefits from the division that’s been created

There are many, many more areas where this can be applied.  To list a few that come to mind:

  • Divisions/stereotypes based on racial groupings (e.g. Black vs. White, comparing crime rates)
  • Divisions/stereotypes based on genders (e.g.: Women vs. Men, comparing athletic ability)
  • Divisions/stereotypes based on hobbies or social groupings (e.g.: Judgements against people who identify as ‘Bronies’)
  • Divisions/stereotypes based on religion (e.g.: Christianity vs Islam vs Atheists, comparing rates of violence)
  • Divisions/stereotypes based on diagnosed illnesses/disorders (e.g.: Disabled vs. Not Disabled, Mentally Ill vs. Not Mentally Ill, comparing general ability/productivity)
  • Many more…

Of the Maxim’s that I’ve posted so far, I’ve realized that this one is likely the one that I’ve got the most issues following in my own life.  It’s very easy to put people into ‘buckets‘ and apply broad generalizations – it seems all too natural for me to look for patterns in life; especially when it comes to looking for patterns in the behavior of other humans.  Try to remember to treat other humans as equals and as individuals.

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