The Ten Suggestions: Universal Principles for a Divided World

Three and a half thousand years ago, Moses received the Ten Commandments – a short code via which humankind were told by Yahweh to live. It was clear and simple direction but, these days, it might be regarded as a tad imperious to command people on how to live their lives.

In these more enlightened and egalitarian days, maybe ‘suggestions’ would be more palatable than commandments? But clearly we need something.

As the world seems ever more dangerous, divided and uncertain there is a level of hysteria rising in the community. We could certainly use a new code but it must be acceptable to everyone. How do we achieve such a thing when so many of the world’s ‘isms’ appear to be in mortal conflict? How do we come up with a set of principles to soothe the troubled world when there are so many entrenched inequities and mutually exclusive visions for the future? Are there at least some things we can all agree on?

The following are my Ten Suggestions on how we might make the world a better, safer and happier place.

1 – All people have an inherent right to live. This is the most basic right of all. Surely no-one disagrees with this, not even The Tea Party.

2 – All people should be free to live as they wish, on condition that they don’t interfere with that same freedom for others. One of the great tragedies of our world is that people can easily see the problems within other cultures but can rarely see the same problems within their own. Humans are inevitably born into a culture with its various rules and customs – many (or most) of which seem self-evidently just and proper to those who have grown up in that culture. Other cultures seem strange (or even wrong), despite the fact that they seem perfectly natural to the people growing up in those other cultures. Dominant cultures therefore want to change other cultures for ‘enlightenment’ reasons, but usually there are underlying political and economic reasons for that ‘enlightenment’ – people are so much easier to exploit when they have been ‘enlightened’.

3 – We should celebrate our differences rather than fear or seek to change those who are different. It is in diversity (and its acceptance) that the true richness of the human spirit is most evident. The best (and wealthiest) cultures throughout history tend to be those that most embrace diversity and respect the rights expressed in Suggestions 1 and 2 above.

At the individual level, human beings seem to be motivated by two (occasionally conflicting) drives: the need to feel part of a group; and the need to express oneself as an individual. When the needs are out of balance then either the individual or the group will be unhappy. A group that shares common underlying values but delights in individual expression would be happy indeed.

4 – No person should be forced to believe in a god or a system. It is perfectly acceptable to believe in a god or a system of living, but belief must be voluntary on the basis of (for the observer) self-evident truth or good example. To force someone to believe something against their will is futile (they won’t truly believe) and imposes a set of values and rules (and a hierarchy and entitlements) to which they do not consent. This is a moral crime.

5 – No rule is legitimate without the consent of the ruled. In a perfect world we wouldn’t need leaders, but this is far from a perfect world so we will need leaders for some things for the foreseeable future. Therefore, if we must be led, we must have a say in who leads and how we are led. Most importantly we must be able to remove bad leaders.

6 – It is the main responsibility of leaders to protect the rights of those they lead and work to increase their freedom. The wrong people always seem to be in charge. The main problem with politics is that the people who want to lead are too often driven by character flaws which militate against the basic rights and freedoms described above. Leadership is not about the victory of the one over the many – it is about the service of the many. A desire to control is evidence of bad faith and is the fundamental reason for so much political corruption and excess. Those guilty of political corruption should be given the harshest possible punishments by the courts. They are worse than nearly all other criminals.

The business of government should be about protecting the basic rights of the governed and trying to create the conditions for an increase of freedom, with the ultimate aim of creating a world in which leaders are no longer necessary.

7 – The well off should be striving to improve the lot of those less fortunate. This goes for individuals, classes, cultures and nations. In fact, it is in your own best interests (if you are rich) to help others to get rich because the greater level of happiness within the community affects everyone positively. More in work means less dysfunction, less crime and less welfare. Countries helping other countries means less conflict, greater wealth and easier movement around the world for all people.

One of the great inequities of the last few centuries has been the politico-economic domination of the first world, and now the rest of the world is fighting back. At the risk of over-simplifying, let’s call that terrorism. Those fortunate enough to have been born into the first world should not be saying: “the terrorists are evil…we should punish them.” That will only make things far worse (as they currently seem to be getting). We should be asking: “what do they want and how we can help them have the kind of lifestyles we enjoy in the first world?” If we did that the conflict would start to ease and there would be trade, travel and the universal increase of wealth and happiness instead of wasteful war and uncertainty, with the wrong people always in charge on both sides of the conflict. Obviously the problems of the second, third and fourth world are exceedingly complex but someone has to make a start by setting a good example and trying to be worthy of trust. Abiding by these Suggestions would be a very good start.

8 – We must respect the environment. It doesn’t matter whether humans have had an impact on climate change. The real questions are: do we have a problem? And, can we do anything to fix it? If there is a problem and we can fix it (or at least reduce the impact) we are collectively guilty of a moral crime in allowing the status quo to go on causing damage. While we go on having children, we must also give them a place to live. (Other creatures also have a right to live and indeed, to the extent that it is meaningful and reasonable, other creatures have all the same rights as expressed or implied under these Suggestions.)

With many of these Suggestions there is an obvious benefit to be gained by those setting the example – it is the same here, although too many lack the foresight to understand the danger, or even worse, don’t care about the danger because that’s in the future and they are busy making money now out of harmful practices. No-one has the right to use up or destroy the environment for personal gain without trying to fix the damage and share the gain as far as reasonably possible. We all own the earth and we all have a right to decide how it should be used up or preserved.

9 – Engage with others. We are scared of each other and have become far too private. Most of us live in cities and are constantly surrounded by millions of others – and yet our response to this is to build up a psychic exoskeleton to ward off the impact of others and live safe within a protective shell that insulates us from the world. Consequently, we have never been so alone. Make it a rule to talk with at least one stranger every day. There’s no need to get weird about it and accost people in the street – just take an interest in people with whom you are already dealing and the shells will fade over time.

10 – Try to live in the moment. Understand that life is finite and needs your attention. It can’t be lived entirely online. Turn your computer off right now. Go outside and breathe the air. Do something physical. Talk to someone about how you feel.

And yes, I’m aware of the irony of posting these Suggestions online and then decrying the internet, so don’t bother to point that out.


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