Taking the Measure of a Society
“You don’t have to be big to be great.” – Sholom Aleichem (a.k.a. Solomon Rabinowitz, a.k.a. “The Jewish Mark Twain,” Russian-born American Yiddish Writer, 1859-1916)
How do we really take the measure of a society? How do we decide whether it is compassionate and great? Is it just a subjective, culture-bound opinion? I have faced this question on many occasions when doing interviews and having meetings in which I am advocating for the mentally ill. I have seen are many different criteria for trying to evaluate a society and a country:
1. The way in which a society treats its youngest and oldest citizens;
2. How a society honors its dead;
3. What opportunities it offers to its citizens and for people who come to the country and join the society;
4. How it behaves toward other countries;
5. The leaders it chooses to follow.
All of those are correct. But I would like to suggest that we should expand on those.
For me: “The true measure of a society is how it treats its weakest members.”
For this is a measure of how far a society has progressed from a dog-eat-dog dominator model toward a more egalitarian partnership model. I have previously described my admiration for the work of Riane Eisler, and in my book and CD program Healing, Meaning and Purpose, I dedicate a whole chapter to ways of applying and expanding on some of her work.
I was once speaking to a Minister of Health in another country, and he expressed the view that providing care for the mentally ill was not the responsibility of government, and that they were simply a drag on the country’s economy. I politely but firmly disagreed, and was able to show him that providing good quality compassionate care for the mentally ill was not just the right thing to do, but it could also have a positive impact on his country’s bottom line. It happened that we were in a Buddhist country and he had a small image of the Buddha in his office, with some incense in front of the statue. At the end of my presentation I used a quotation attributed to the Buddha:
“In separateness lies the world’s great misery; in compassion lies the world’s true strength.”
When I talk about the advantages of an expanded, five dimensional model of thinking about people and their interactions, it is exceedingly practical. Many of the same things that are good for individuals are also good for society as a whole. That seems such an obvious statement, but when you think it through and apply my same principles of personal integration to integrate relationships and to produce an integrated society, the results can be remarkable.
“Compassion is the chief law of human existence.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky (Russian Writer, 1821-1881)