We ought to be treating one another honorably. That is to say, we should discover a genuine value in our relationship with others, and intelligence of action that causes us to speak kindly, act with charity and meaningful compassion, to actually see other human beings as living persons, not objects for us to oppose or approve of, as our whim dictates. In this context, it is even possible to treat one’s enemy honorably — which was an important part of many ancient traditions. In fact, civilized traditions place a greater emphasis on this than degenerate ones.
The idea of civilization relates directly to the idea of awakening this City of God within us. All of the denizens of the City have — unlike us — honorable and loving intentions. If we are under the influence of this City, our intentions are equally honorable and loving. We take thought before we act towards others, and our action makes an effort to be good, that is, to outwardly consider the other.
Humanity, unfortunately, is decisively degenerating. If you look at the average person in today’s world, they are filled with opinions and hatred, dismiss others who do not believe what they believe, and feel entitled to say horrible things about other people whenever they feel like it. They have no restraint; they embody no decorum; their intelligence is the absolute slave of coarse emotions.
Coming into relationship with others involves a great deal of suffering, and it can’t be undertaken without the awakening of that selfsame conscience which Ashiata Shiemash determined is necessary for the development of human beings. Conscience does not manifest without a struggle, because our outward personality is powerful and wants to have nothing to do with it. We need to find a niche for conscience within ourselves, a safe place for it to reside intelligently in the course of our everyday actions.
The situation is alarming to me personally, because I so often run into people who claim to be spiritually “developed” in one way or another, and yet display haughty, arrogant, dismissive, and even hateful attitudes towards others. The contradictions in these individuals are shocking, and even more shocking is the fact that they are absolutely blind to them.
How can this be? Is it truly possible for someone to study a set of esoteric ideas, especially Christian ones or those of Gurdjieff, for many decades and end up understanding nothing about this matter?
I’m afraid so. It doesn’t matter how much inner effort one makes or how much one “awakens” if the heart doesn’t open. The man or woman who does not acquire humility can acquire the whole world and all its treasures, both inner and outer — but without humility they are nothing. Nothing is nothing; it is not good or bad, but it does not exist. Existence is predicated on the presence of conscience. This feeling quality of being is unmistakable; and it has no arrogance. It always honors.
The awakening of conscience, as Gurdjieff called it, leads to a completely different set of inward ideas and attitudes, which then impose a certain authority over outward action. You can easily see the difference between people who act from conscience and those who do not.
Victor Frankl called them decent and non-decent people. These are people who actually care — have a wish — about how they treat others, and they understand the physical, substantial, and material meaning of the idea to act through love.
Not through some theoretical idea about love which selects only what one likes; but the idea of love as a whole thing.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.