I’ve talked already about what I see as the causes of people acting like a dick. Which, at its simplest, is ignoring the almost universally understood Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. So far I’ve talked about forgetfulness, or thoughtlessness, and anger. Now I want to talk about selfishness.
I think I might have been about seventeen, or maybe even a big, grown up nineteen when I was thinking, as you do, about the ten commandments. The first four had very little interest for me then, and no more now. They are all religion specific, and to me just give ammunition to atheists. Because I’m not interested in what you believe, remember; just in how that belief impacts on whether you are a dick or not.
So leaving aside “Honor your Father and Mother,” which is more the realm of psychology than morals, what do we have? Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie in court, and don’t covet.
I brooded about these five for some time. I found it amusing, at the very least that in the Judeo-Christian tradition lying isn’t mentioned, just not bearing false witness. Lie outside of court, just not in court. Well, OK, it screws up the legal system if you lie in court, but honestly, I don’t think any injunction other than the law is going to change things that much.
Which leaves us with murder, theft, adultery, and coveting.
Coveting is the basis of the free market system. I’m not going to say whether that makes it good or bad, but I’ll just let you consider that for a minute.
Now, leaving alone whether you think adultery is good or bad for people, I want to think about why people do these things, and I think now, much as I did fifty years ago, the reason is selfishness.
People steal because they think they deserve the things someone else has. Consider little kids in a play group. If a kid wants something another kid is playing with, he just takes it. Why? Well, he doesn’t see why he shouldn’t. Because as babies and children, we tend to get given stuff. Food. Clothing. Love. Why wouldn’t we think the world belongs to us? But we can’t live in a world run by three-year-olds. Ask any child minder why.
What happens when we think the world is ours by right? Oooh, I fancy my BFF’s husband. Let’s see if he feels the same. Bugger her. If she can’t hold on to him, is that my fault? So, boom! Adultery. Or even just stealing someone’s boyfriend.
Now I admit that I can’t begin to understand why people kill. But surely, taking another’s life in cold blood must be the ultimate selfish act. “You are in my way; you have to die.” If you think about it, even self-defense is a selfish act. An understandable selfish act, but it is SELF preservation.
Coveting, wanting something someone else has… now that I have to group with the Seven Deadly Sins, which I shall talk about another time.
Let me make something clear: murder and theft are, by and large, selfish acts of a worse kind than adultery or lying. If you steal someone’s boyfriend, he has some say in the matter. If you steal their car, the car really doesn’t care much one way or the other. Yes, often adultery is selfish. But, just as often, it’s something else. But the point I really am making here is that all kinds of “sin” really boil down to one thing: thinking you are more important than someone else. Your needs are greater. You deserve better. Murder or being an asshole in the bar; it starts in the same place: you.
I have found driving in Seattle much less stressful, once I realized that all the other drivers are more important than me. And wherever they are going, it is vital that I get out of their way. Or, at least, that seems to be how they see it. As long as I agree with them, everybody’s happy. But…. Gee, if I start acting like I have a right to be on the road, no wonder they sound their horn, flip me the bird, and scream obscenities! I mean, what kind of a dick…?
But taking from me does not make you more. Taking my things, taking my friend; taking my loved ones, taking my life. This does not make you more; it only makes me less. And imagining that somehow you deserve what I have is simply selfishness. The selfishness of a total dick.
But the point is, I should not have to be less, so that you can be more. Each of us is enough. Good enough. Man enough. Woman enough. Strong enough. Caring enough. Lovable enough. You do not have to be bigger, or stronger, or braver, or prettier, or kinder, or faster than me in order to be enough. What you are IS enough, just as what I am IS enough.
And selfishness, dickishness, makes you less. Less pleasant. Less kind. Less reliable. Less helpful. Less worth knowing.
And any kind of act, any ideas that make you treat people as if they were less than you comes from the same place: selfishness. Murder or racism. Sexism or theft. Child abuse or cutting in front in line. All of these things say, “I am better. You are less. To hell with you.” And that kind of dickishness can make a very real hell on earth.
Am I saying that all dickishness is sin? No. But it all comes from the same place. It is a difference of degree, not of kind. It is ignoring the simple human truth that we all want to be treated as we would treat ourselves. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; or to be more British, do as you would be done by.
Don’t be a dick.