People often speak of treating other people with respect, but here’s the problem – everyone we encounter is doing something which seems foolish and the reason is obvious: we simply don’t know the motivations behind what they are doing. If we knew why they were behaving as they are it might still seem foolish but not totally stupid. But, how are we going to treat these foolish people with respect when they are acting aggressive and confrontational towards us personally?
Conflict in this world is inevitable. Most conflict over the possession of real world goods is avoided by our social organizations allocating goods in more or less socially agreed upon fair and honest ways, and meting out legal punishments, which are applied to transgressors. All the same when we slip outside of the legal system either above into real world of international politics or below into the world of most social relationships there comes conflict over what belongs to whom and who gets rights and precedence. It is in this sub-legal social world where everyone is in potential conflict at all times and where the question of respect for other people’s rights comes to the fore.
Just saying, “respect other people’s rights” becomes easy to say but impossible to apply in real world situations where every person is trying to uphold their personal grip on their social world. We need an over riding world philosophy to cope with real world social problems. When someone demands attention we either give it to them for the moment, on assumption that they will grant us similar attention in the near future, or we cave in to their dominance and demands. Then we simply become their slaves in the future, or avoid them.
Into this social maelstrom the idea came to me that everyone is trying to make the world into a better place. They have their own history as a physical person and a mass of personal experience coded into habits and an immediate goal, but the unstated but overriding goal is always to make the world a better place. Always this is moderated by their own personal needs, and so it appears that everyone is simply trying to maximize their own personal wealth. Adam Smith, in his 1776 book Wealth of Nations explored this concept relative to economic well-being, and ended up with the idea, usually represented as the Hidden Hand, where each person striving for their personal improvement leads to the improvement of the entire community and of the world. Darwinism has a very similar tenet quoted with the term Survival of the Fittest – where it is the healthiest and luckiest individual which produces the most progeny, and thus maximizes the overall quality of their species and best adapts the community of individuals to the environment within which it has existed.
This returns to the original idea which posited that each person is attempting to improve the world, and they are doing so by improving their personal situation within their existing world. Once we have that insight it becomes easier to treat every person with respect, because we realize the underlying goals for their behavior.
Even the most destructive of actions is motivated by good intentions.