Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.
Weapons are the tools of fear;
a decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity;
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn’t wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory,
and delight in the slaughter of men?
He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 31, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, Lao Tzu talked about how the use of force is a failure to rely on the Tao. He specifically warned that for every force there is a counter force; and, that violence always rebounds upon oneself. He was framing all of that in the context of being content with yourself, and with the world.
I will readily admit that I don’t really understand the mindset that applying the golden rule, treating everyone like you would like to be treated, is somehow quaint and naïve; and, that it is not a way we can go about living our lives. The idea that we should treat people only like they treat us; or, that if we perceive that they are thinking ill of us that we should preemptively lash out against them, is antithetical to how I want to live my own life. And, in living my life in such a way that I don’t manufacture enemies out of thin air, I have found that I don’t actually have any enemies. Live and let live. Look for all the ways that we are similar, rather than focusing on what makes us different. Mind my own business. That is how I choose to live my life. And that, my friends, is a life of contentment.
Today, Lao Tzu offers us a litmus test for human decency. He tells us that weapons are the tools of violence and fear. Yesterday, Lao Tzu talked about violence. And previously, he said that fear, as much as hope, is a phantom that only exists because we are thinking only of our selves. Given that we are talking about something that is only going to rebound on ourselves; and, that it isn’t even real, but just an illusion of our minds; it would seem to me that Lao Tzu’s litmus test for human decency is a reasonable way to gauge how we are choosing to live our lives.
This is the litmus test for whether you are a decent human being:
Do you detest weapons? Do you try to avoid them, only use them in direst necessity, and use them only with the utmost restraint? I think these are important questions to be asking ourselves.
Now, before I go further, I do want to be clear that I believe self-defense is an inalienable right of all humans. Just because you have an arsenal of weapons and ammunition does not mean you don’t detest them. And it doesn’t mean that you don’t try to avoid them. Or, that you only use them in direst necessity and with the utmost restraint. I understand there are real threats to our persons and our property. I am not suggesting that people should have their right to self-defense infringed upon, in any way, shape, or form.
Still, if you are a decent human being, peace should be your highest value. If the peace has been shattered, how could you ever be content? And remember, my friends, being content is what the art of living is all about. Decent human beings understand that their enemies are not demons, but fellow human beings, just like them. A decent human being would never wish a fellow human being personal harm. Decent human beings never rejoices in victory. How could they? How could they delight in the slaughter of fellow human beings.
I like this litmus test for human decency. It seems like we have so mangled the words decent and indecent. When it comes to indecency, some people only seem to care how much of your skin is covered by clothing. That, to me, is superficial. Lao Tzu gets to the heart of the matter. What is decent and indecent? If we are going to consider that question, let’s leave off with worrying about the surface of your skin.
I know indecency when I see it. I see it when I see our rulers laughing it up on late night talk shows about killing people with drone strikes. Decent human beings enter a battle gravely. They are full of sorrow that it has devolved to this. They feel great compassion considering the huge cost in human lives. They behave as if they were attending a funeral.
It is time to stop the indecency. It is time to be decent human beings. And that begins with me.