A Challenge to All the World’s Human Beings: Eliminating the Causes For Conflict and War




Christopher Ebbe, Ph.D.     3-16

ABSTRACT:  Key conditions for the end of almost all wars and for minimizing conflict in the global economy are described as propositions that each individual on the planet can either accept or reject (with predictable consequences for each).

KEY WORDS:  war, discrimination, prejudice, self-interest, selfishness, cooperation, competition

Below you will find fifteen questions that relate to how we interact with others.  Answer them before you read further, to get the greatest impact from this essay.

1. Choose a or b:

a. Do you want to have the “right” to get as much as you can in life by taking advantage of others, as long as it doesn’t break the law (examples might be deceiving others, trying to get them to do things even if it’s not what they want or in their best interest, not telling them everything, not revealing your hope of benefiting from their decisions or actions)?

b. Do you want to treat people fairly in everything, even if it means that you won’t make as much money as you would in (a)?

2. Choose a or b:

a. Do you try to treat others well at all times (taking their welfare into account), even if you lose some opportunities or look “square” or stupid by doing so?

b. Do you prefer to sometimes treat others unfairly or badly if that will help you get something you want?

3. Choose a or b:

a. I believe that every individual in the world is basically equal to all other individuals and should be accorded basic respect and courtesy regardless of their customs and beliefs.

b. I believe that we are a more advanced civilization and that we therefore have a right to insist on our ways of doing things when we are dealing with more backward people.

4. Choose a or b:

a. Do you do your best to tell the truth, even if it is sometimes embarrassing or inconvenient to you (especially when not telling the whole truth might result in harm to someone else?

b. Do you prefer to tell white lies or paint a different picture than what really happened when you communicate with others in order to avoid conflicts and get the best outcomes for yourself?

5. Choose a or b:

a. I think there are reasons why I am just better than others, such as my accomplishments, the family that I come from, my country, being a man (or woman), my religion, my education, my physical strength, my appearance, my wealth, etc.

b. Nothing about me (or anyone else) makes anyone “better than” anyone else.  We are all basically equal as human beings, although we may do better or worse than others in our daily lives.

6. Choose a or b:

a. I believe in using disapproval and criticism of others to “soften them up,” if necessary, so that they will do what I want.

b. I believe in treating others well, even if it prevents me from getting what I want.

7. Choose a or b:

a. I prefer to compete as hard as possible, because competition creates the greatest wealth, and it’s fun!

b. Competition is fine as long as everyone comes out OK, but competition that takes unfair advantage of others is not acceptable, so I generally prefer cooperation.

8. Choose a or b:

a. I try to control my behavior so I don’t harm others, regardless of what I am feeling.

b. I believe that there are some feelings that just can’t be controlled, and I don’t feel bad about others getting hurt when feelings are expressed in behavior.  They do the same to me.  Besides, to threaten violence is often the only way to get you want.

9. Chose a or b:

a. It’s important to know your feelings so you can know what’s important and make the best choices.

b. Feelings mostly hurt or get in the way of action, so it’s better not to think about them.

10. Choose a or b:

a. I always try to imagine and understand what others are experiencing, so that I’ll know how to deal with them.

b. It’s just confusing to even try to understand others, so I just use the social and environmental context (what is happening that I can see) to predict what people will do.

11. Choose a or b:

a. I want my country to do its best for our citizens’ welfare, and one way of doing that is by increasing our wealth even if that means leaving people in other countries in poverty.

b. I want my country to basically preserve our citizens’ welfare but to invest some of our money in raising the standard of living in poor countries around the world.

12. Choose a or b:

a. My goal in business and in my job is to get as much as I can for myself (given current laws and currently acceptable customs and practices).

b. My goal is to always buy for a fair price and to always charge a fair price to others.

13. Choose a or b:

a. Would you want your country to join a large (100 or more) group of nations that will jointly protect each other from attack (from both members and non-members of the group) by going to war together against any nation that attacks any nation that is a member of the group?  This group might also seek to protect non-member nations in some circumstances.

b. Do you want your country to maintain its opportunities to attack other countries (to start wars) whenever it deems it necessary or appropriate?

14. Choose a or b:

a. Do you want the citizens of your country to be able to charge whatever price they choose for goods and services they provide to persons in other countries and to take whatever we want from them by manipulation or force if they won’t sell to us at a bargain price?

b. Do you want your country to participate in an international organization that can alter proposed prices that are exploitative (that take excessive advantage of people in other countries)?

15. Choose a or b:

a. Would you vote for a leader who promises to get you more, even if others in your country are disadvantaged (lose out) by this?

b. Would you vote for a leader who promises to work toward a fair distribution of available monies and resources to all citizens (even if this means that you get somewhat less than you might under (a)?

Some assumptions underlying these propositional choices are that (1) everyone views theft and bodily harming of others as generally “wrong,” and that (2) every human being has a basic worth and value just for being alive.  Some people do not see taking advantage of others as wrong, but taking advantage of others does harm others.

These choices are important because (1) wars will only stop when people stop mistreating and attacking other people in order to gain or make themselves feel better, and (2) inequity always motivates the disadvantaged group to fight back and to achieve equality, no matter how long it takes.  This seems clear from changes among human groups over time.  Examples of this are the change from viewing slavery as right to viewing it as wrong and movements toward greater racial, gender, sexual orientation, and sexual identity equality.


Most people decry the negative outcomes of war, other violent behavior between groups of people, and violence within groups, such as lynching, genocide, and murder.  Despite the death and destruction that result from violence, though, many people still sign up eagerly to fight their country’s wars, even if they don’t understand why the war is being fought.  Similarly, most of us grow up with various kinds of prejudices, but only a few of us know what our prejudices are.  To most, their prejudices seem as if they are obviously true and realistic (e.g., homosexuals are obviously predatory and an affront to God).  Also, it is natural for human beings to be loyal to their close groups (family, town, nation) and to view others outside of those groups as fair game for making money or taking advantage.   This makes it clear that any movement toward eliminating war and killing in general will require some thoughtful and positive action to adopt new ways of looking at things.  Doing what comes naturally will never lead to this change, because what comes naturally to human beings is competing with other groups (including taking advantage where possible) and killing others who can’t be manipulated into doing things as we want.  Here are several propositions that highlight what it would take to reduce war and intragroup killing, addressing the issue illustrated in each of the above questions. 

1. Taking Advantage of Others.  If we mistreat others by taking advantage of them, through lying, deceiving, cheating, threatening, etc., we contribute to their mistrust of ourselves and others in general and to their anger (particularly toward us).  When these feelings become strong enough, violence results.  If you help to generate this anger, you personally may not be the target of the eventual violence, which is often misdirected, but you are partly responsible for it.  We don’t generally think about this eventual result, partly because many people can’t grasp the chain of events described or the concept that every interaction they have affects the total happiness or unhappiness in the world, and partly because we have not developed rules about this sort of thing but prefer to tolerate it despite its negative consequences.  Nonetheless, not everything that is lawful is good.  Just because “there is no law against it” doesn’t mean that it is right or that it is not destructive, just that we aren’t dealing with it collectively right now.

People react strongly to being treated unfairly, and repeated or lengthy periods of being treated unfairly often result in violence (riots, revolutions, assassinations, etc.).  We may differ somewhat on what we view as fair and unfair, but all of us have definite awareness of it when we feel treated unfairly.  If you treat others unfairly on purpose (for personal gain), then you may have some immediate gains from that, if those you treat unfairly are not able to fight back immediately, but your unfairness will come back to you in the form of anger, resentment, and possibly violence, and you will also be contributing to the general amount of anger in the world, which if turned to vengeful behavior has the potential to harm many, including yourself and those you love.  In order to treat people fairly, you would have to give up your potential immediate gains from treating people unfairly

Violence sometimes results from people insisting unreasonably that they be treated fairly.  Human beings are fallible and somewhat inconsistent in how they treat others, the judgements of judges and juries are sometimes prejudiced and wrong, and group rules and laws are sometimes deliberately unfair so that one group can gain more than other groups of citizens.  In order to restrain violence in society, it is adaptive for us all to overlook certain unintended instances of unfairness (i.e., to tolerate minor unfairness when we know that it is not personally aimed at us), but to dispute and reverse unfairness that is purposeful and aimed toward us in order for someone else to gain advantage.  Of course, we should all work toward eliminating, as much as possible, unfairness in the laws of our society and unfairness stemming from some people viewing others as inferior and therefore unequal.

A related issue in taking advantage of others is to ignore the general rule of reciprocity, which is that how you treat others moves them in the direction of treating you in the same way.  If you treat others well, they are more likely to treat you well, and if you treat others badly, then they are more likely to treat you badly.  So, if you take advantage of others, treat other unfairly, steal from others, etc., you will generally get some of that behavior back toward you from those others.  The major reason why people continue to treat others badly for personal gain is that they believe that they can gain advantage without having to pay a price.  The “law” of reciprocity says that you will get some of the same behavior toward yourself, but it may not be in proportion to what you have done, and a few people seem not to be “punished” at all. It can be argued, though, that such people do pay a price for their mistreatment of others, because they often miss out on some important elements of a happy life, such as love and having a sense of community with others.  One reason why people like to believe in divine retribution after death is that they think that many people, during this lifetime, escape the consequences of their unfair and harmful behavior.

2. Mistreating Others or Treating Them Well.  The alternative to mistreating others is treating them well.  This means being honest with them, responsible toward them, respectful toward them, basically accepting of them, fair with them, working with them cooperatively to achieve mutual goals, treating them as basic equals, allowing them the freedom to freely choose what they see as best for themselves, not manipulating or dominating them, and not inflicting physical violence on them.

If you do not treat others well (i.e., if you lie, cheat, steal, manipulate, dominate, physically harm others, etc.), you are contributing directly to others’ anger and resentment and inviting them to treat you in the same ways that you treat them, so don’t complain when they do it to you also.  Most people treat others badly but believe that they won’t have to pay for it, but if you mistreat others, you are contributing to everyone’s bad outcomes, and you will receive some of this back—not through karma but simply because you have helped to create others who think like you that it is OK to treat others badly.

3. Equality.  Every time you act “better than” someone else, you insult that person, with the result that he or she wants to dispute your assertion and prove that he or she is just as good as you.  You may be able to make your claim stick temporarily, but you are creating bad feeling against yourself which takes away from the quality of life that you could otherwise have.  This shows up in resentment, uncooperativeness, disrespect, and occasionally in violence toward you.  If you treat all others as basic equals (i.e., deserving of the same respect and opportunities that you have), conflict and violence are much reduced.

A particularly visible superiority-inferiority issue in current times is difference.  People fear what they do not understand, and they also tend to assume that their ways are superior to those of other groups, which leads many to view people from backgrounds different from their own as inferior (particularly in relation to racial and religious differences).  Western tendencies to view Arabs and therefore Muslims in general as inferior has played a significant part in the resentment of many Muslims in the Middle East toward Western societies and therefore in the violent behavior of Muslim fundamentalist extremists.  (Western military and economic manipulations of Middle Eastern countries has also played a part.)  The reaction of most people in the U.S. to violent extremism is that we should “beat it out of them,” but we may get farther by acknowledging our prejudice and fear and figuring out how to treat everyone fairly and with respect and courtesy.

Another major arena for conflicts about equality is in the roles of men and women in society.  It has been traditional in almost every society that men took the role of protecting the group, by violence if necessary, while women were more oriented toward home and family maintenance.  The physical specialization of men and women in these directions must have begun early in the history of the species, which had the effect of not only making men the choice (if there had to be a choice) for defending the group but also making it possible for men to control women by force.  This situation was justified in different societies by different arguments and reasons, but the net effect was always that women had fewer rights than men.  Western societies have changed over time to holding as a desirable principle that women have the same rights and opportunities as men, while we see in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan examples of societies that have not changed much in this regard, justifying their positions on the basis of religion.  (Westerners should remember with some humility that up until the late 1800’s even the laws of the U. S. and Britain permitted violence by men against their wives if necessary, in the man’s opinion, for the welfare of the family.)

This is a values question, and it is possible to argue that groups that have to reach decisions through agreement between equal parties (as in democracies) have a more difficult time reaching decisions, and that complete equality between husbands and wives is therefore not compatible with having a smoothly functioning family unit.  However, democracy for nations, in which huge groups of people must agree somehow on decisions, seems to have provided enough advantages in quality of life for these equal parties (voters, citizens) that most nations in the world view it as a better way to go than autocracy, so it must be possible for family units to struggle successfully enough with this difficulty of equals (husband and wife) reaching joint decisions.

4. Telling the Truth.  If you deceive others, you create mistrust in them and bad outcomes for them, which they will resent and for which they will dislike you.  If you are honest with others, they will appreciate it and will respect you more.  If you deceive yourself about who you are and what you do, you will make bad decisions and lose opportunities to improve yourself and your life.

Being honest with others may be embarrassing at times, but if you come to basically accept yourself, this will not be a problem.  Being honest with yourself may initially bring up guilt and shame, but again, if you come to basically accept yourself, these will diminish.

5.  Equality/Superiority   (see #3)

6. Disapproval and Rejection.  Most people freely use expressions of disapproval, criticism, and anger to try to get others to do what they want.  Some use of these behaviors is inevitable, but excess is harmful.  The more disapproval, criticism, and anger an individual receives, the greater the likelihood of the individual becoming unable to function at all (which makes him or her useless to society), addicted to compensations such as substance use (which also makes him or her useless to society), and/or violent.  If you use harsh criticism, disapproval, and/or anger frequently, you are contributing to dysfunction in society and to violence in society.  Take a look at your preferred methods of getting what you want from others and consider taking a more moderate approach!

7. Competition.  Competition is sometimes fun and is useful for finding out how we compare with others (which is necessary for hierarchically organized societies), but excess competition (e.g., “having” to win, never giving up, wanting to dominate or humiliate others) is harmful to others and to society.  If you dominate and humiliate others, it results in resentment and anger, and even if that is held in check for a while, most people will immediately try to distance themselves from you.  Eventually it will also come back to you in resentment, anger, withdrawal, uncooperativeness, and possibly violence.

Defenders of intense competitiveness often claim that that is how human beings are, but while most human beings will try to do the best they can at things, most human beings also prefer a calmer, more cooperative approach (as opposed to cut-throat competition), when it is available to them.  Many families have an atmosphere of constant competition among family members, and people in those families will either give up or strive to dominate, so constant competition may seem “normal” to them, but it is not the most productive or happy way to live.

8. Self-Control.  If you cannot control your behavior and end up often saying and doing things that hurt others, either emotionally or physically, then you are contributing to the likelihood that they will be violent toward you as well (with the justification that you “started it”).  You can learn to control your behavior, if you want to.

Threatening others with violence in order to get them to do what you want is a form of extortion and leads to anger and resentment and the wish to get back at you.  If you use violence or the threat of violence as a method, you are committing to the philosophy of “might makes right,” and sooner or later there will always be someone stronger than you.  If you use violence or the threat of violence as a method, you have no complaint when others use it on you. 

9.  Managing Emotions.  If you are a person who believes that it is better overall to bury your feelings, then you make it more likely that you will become violent, as a result of anger and resentment building up in you over time.  You also make it harder for others to manage their feelings, because you will not be providing for them any of the empathy and support to others that are primary tools through which human beings manage their emotions.  You are also losing out on the potential to have the best intimate relationships with others, since those depend on trust and sharing.  Managing your emotions well reduces the risks of violence and war by making it unlikely that you will be violent with others in order to make yourself feel better or get what you want.  Note how many wars have been generated by fear and hatred of others who are different in race or religion.

10. Empathy.  Understanding others empathically (imagining how others feel and think, given their circumstances, and then having a resonating, similar but less intense feeling state to theirs) is clearly useful for preventing violence, because people fear people whom they do not understand (usually people that they view as “different”).  Fear and lack of understanding often lead to negative attitudes toward others and to conflict.  Empathic understanding is sometimes inaccurate, but having an understanding of others leads us to feel more kinship with them than having no understanding of them.

The reasons why people avoid trying to understand others empathically are most frequently (1) not caring about others, (2) avoiding the effort that it takes to try to understand others, and (3) fearing feelings in general and therefore avoiding experiencing emotions empathically.  Not caring about others results in general in poor interpersonal relationships and in incorrect decisions about how to interact with others, and it originates most often in an early history of unsatisfactory and/or punishing relationships with other family members.  This can be overcome, through therapy or through simply allowing oneself to fully encounter the disappointment and anger that one felt about those unsatisfactory/punishing relationships and eventually being able to try another solution than not caring about others.  People are most often motivated to overcome not caring about others through some longing that they have for more fulfilling relationships.

It does take effort to exercise one’s empathy, particularly because one can never fully understand another and because one is sometimes wrong in one’s understanding.  The benefits, however, of understanding others better than one would without empathy make it worthwhile to most people to make the effort to understand.

Fearing feelings in general can be overcome, again through therapy or through gradually allowing oneself to feel more feelings so that one comes to accept the occasional pain of painful feelings and gets used to managing feelings in general (something that we don’t explicitly teach children but expect them to absorb through observation).  Feelings felt empathically are less intense than our own feelings and so should be somewhat easier to deal with than our own feelings.  (For more on improving one’s empathy, see my essay “Empathy” at www.livewiselydeeply.com.)

11. Taking Advantage Globally.  If you hope to benefit financially from taking advantage of people in other countries (getting their resources or labor as cheaply as possible), you are supporting a system that will result in the long run in anger and hatred toward you and toward our country.  Human beings tend to apply rules of fairness to those close to them (family, friends) or those with whom they identify (citizens of the nation) and to view others and other groups as fair game for exploitation.  This attitude may seem to pay off for you now, but your children may die in the wars that result over the long haul.  (As in many of these issues, people mistreat others partly because they think they can get away without a cost.)

Business people often think that their behavior can’t be abusive or unfair if the others with whom they deal accept the payment offered, and it is true that initially a low payment or price gives those others more wealth than they had before, but once they are “hooked” they become dependent on the business arrangement and cannot bargain for a higher price or payment.  Then the resentment and anger build, which may result in riots, industrial espionage, and eventually in nationalization of the industry in that country.  It may be difficult to accept, but everyone everywhere has a sense of what is fair, and while we may not agree exactly on what is fair in every different circumstance, people know when they are being taken advantage of, and good relations require that this not be the case.  It may cost more now to give a fair price, but if you don’t, you will probably pay a large cost sometime in the future.

In addition, treating people around the world fairly helps in equalization of wealth between nations and within nations, and extreme wealth differences always result in resentment and hatred.  We see this in our own society in the anger and violence of people in ghettoes who see most others in the society having good lives while they are unable to do so except through stealing and drug dealing.

12.  Taking Advantage of Others Through Unfair Prices (see #10)

13. Alliances to Prevent War.  Since aggression is a hard-wired aspect of human behavior (at least when frustrated or threatened) that will not be changed or bred out of human beings, the best we can do to reduce the incidence of war is to arrange institutions so that no country chooses to go to war first.  An agreement of many or most of the nations on earth to jointly retaliate against any country (signatories or not) that initiates war could accomplish this.  This would be similar to NATO, for instance, but much larger and more encompassing. 

If you are opposed to such an agreement, it shows that you would like for your country to be able to use war against other countries whenever it felt like it, and given human selfishness and frailty, this will just continue the human race’s history of frequent wars.  There are no legitimate justifications for war except self-defense.  Any other reasons are simply selfish, and the destruction and suffering caused by every war is too great for countries to be able to justify any war except for self-defense when attacked.  If you think that other causes can justify war, then you are simply saying that your country’s self-interest (and your own) are somehow more important than the lives and rights of everyone else on the planet, and that simply cannot be allowed to be true.

There might be circumstances in which a country could be in very dire straits (e.g., if most of its population were starving) that could motivate it to engage in war purely for survival.  This survival, however, would come at the price of harming other persons and taking their property, and while we can understand individuals thinking that their own personal survival is more important than the survival of any other person, the principle of equality states that no human life is any more important than any other human life.  So violence used against others who are not harming one in order to survive is understandable, but it cannot be allowed to be viewed as moral.  Nations, as human collectives, cannot be allowed to dodge the moral question involved so easily.  This kind of circumstance could and should be dealt with through the community of nations being motivated to help on the basis of our common humanity and not through war. 

14.  Taking Advantage of Others Globally.  See #3 and #10 above.  An international organization that could oversee and partially regulate worldwide prices when they are grossly unfair would be a challenge to create, and it would be a challenge to ensure its fairness, but it would seem to be the only alternative to raw capitalism, in which people are free to treat others in any way that would be profitable.  Raw capitalism (when people are free to treat others in any way that would be profitable) clearly leads to immoral actions, and we should recognize that our own country does not allow raw capitalism; otherwise there would be no need or context for wage negotiations, for example, since employers would be free to pay whatever they wanted to (which they were doing, before the rise of labor unions, at levels that kept most workers in poverty).  Another possible answer to setting unfair prices is for every country to adopt maximum profit levels, but this would seem just as unpalatable to business persons as having a world regulatory agency that would step in when the balance of benefits in a business transaction, particularly if developing nations were concerned, was just too one-sided to be morally acceptable.

If you want to gain by taking advantage unfairly of others, then you will be creating resentment and anger among those you treat unfairly, and it will eventually result in someone being hurt, whether that is through domestic violence, war, or revolution.  You will not be immune from this hurt, and if a revolution comes and takes your property or your life, you will have no basis for complaint.  “I didn’t think it would happen” is neither a moral nor a legal defense.  Electing a leader that promises to benefit you at significant cost to others is a sure fire way to create conflict and escalate the chances of violence.

15. Favoritism in Government.  If certain sub-groups in a larger group (such as a political party within a nation) have the purpose of gaining advantage at the expense of other groups of citizens, it will create conflict and anger within the nation.  If you vote for leaders who promise to give you advantages (taxes, zoning, rights, influence, regulations, etc.) over other citizens, you are creating conflict and anger within the nation, and it will come back to you in resentment, distancing, unfair practices aimed toward you, and possible violence.  The only way to avoid the disastrous consequences of favoritism in government is to strive sincerely for basic equality and to vote for leaders who promise fairness.


It is clear that there are things we can do individually to reduce anger, violence, and war, but it should also be clear that there is a cost to doing this.  If you treat people fairly, are honest with people, treat people well at all times, and treat others as basic equals, you will have to give up your opportunities to get more in the world through manipulating, deceiving, cheating, swindling, blackmailing, and extorting others.  (To put this in context, taking potential customers to dinner, hoping that they will then be more inclined to do business with one, is a manipulation, though a mild one that people generally agree to overlook.)  To make this seem attractive, you will have to believe that you will benefit more by giving up these practices than you will by continuing them.  It’s almost impossible to predict with any certainty how your life will go if you choose any new or different path, but we can be fairly certain that if you treat others well, fairly, etc., you will have more positive relations with others in general, including your own family as well as strangers.  You will also have fewer conflicts with others.  If enough people treat others well, fairly, etc., then violence and war will be reduced, and you will be less likely to be harmed by violence and war.  You may also gain a little less money and goods in your life if you treat others well, although some have used these principles to get even more in life by having a good and trustworthy reputation and good employee relations.  You must choose which way to go. 


While the principles above are reasonably clear, the application of them in all the complicated situations that we face in life is not simple.  We all have some concept of what is fair and right and what is not, but different people draw the boundaries of what is fair and right somewhat differently.  As a result, we must constantly be thinking about what is fair and right in their immediate circumstances, and for the sake of practicality, we must come to conclusions in a timely fashion as best we can.  This means that if we apply ourselves to this and also carefully watch the outcomes of our decisions, we can evolve over time to make better and better assessments of what is fair and right, by honestly reconsidering our decisions after the fact.  There is no shame in realizing that it would have been better if we had done something different, as long as we resolve to learn from that and do better the next time.  This also means that it is useful to talk frequently with others whom you trust with regard to their own sense of fairness and rightness, so that you can learn from them using practical examples and dilemmas that you (and they) have faced.

As an example, even if you try to treat everyone fairly and do the right thing, someone may still complain that you are not acting properly.  A mother who “guilts” her son to get him to live with her rather than getting his own home will complain that if he leaves, he will be mistreating her and acting immorally.  She may actually believe that (which is an example of how we are able to distort our interpretations of things when important self-interests are at stake), but we must see the issue in a larger context in order to determine if she is correct.  Looking at it from a societal view, it is “normal” and acceptable for grown children to move out on their own, so all she can legitimately claim is that she badly wants her son to live with her and that she will be unhappy (at least for a while) if he does not.  A son in such a position could consult with others who are not directly involved to make sure that his larger view of what is right is accurate.  There could, on the other hand, be circumstances in which it would be questionably moral not to help the mother in some way.  For instance, if she were disabled and had no income at all, then some joint living arrangement with the son, another family member, or a paid assistant might be necessary. 

Another difficulty arises when one’s own sense of what is right differs from that of one’s society, which often leads to intense feelings of alienation and desire for others to change.  In these instances one must be especially rigorous in soul-searching to be sure that one is seeing all relevant factors and taking them into account realistically.  Even then, acting according to what one thinks is fair and right may put one in conflict with those around one.  Societal views of what is right change only slowly.

The willingness of people to carefully consider what is fair and right varies with circumstances.  This is especially true when human beings act in groups, since being “lost in the crowd” and having “strength in numbers” tempts all crowd members to act on their feelings without much cognitive tempering.

A frequent complaint about trying to live by the principles presented here is that even if one benefits personally from treating others well in general, doing so will make no difference in the larger picture.  This is similar to justifying not voting by saying that one’s lone vote will make no difference in an election.  This is both true and not true.  It is true in the sense that it will be extremely rare for one vote to make the difference in who is elected, but it is not true in the sense that if everyone took that attitude, then no one would vote and no one would be elected.  This is similar to recycling or trying to use less electricity or water in an effort to make human life on the planet more sustainable.  One’s own small amount of saving is infinitesimally small in comparison to what is needed to really make a difference, but what is needed to make a real difference is the sum of millions of the small amounts that millions of individuals save.  If no one saved, then there would be no hope of improving things.  If we believe that group behavior should be different than it is, then we have an obligation to do our (small) part in making that difference.  It is easier to make sacrifices when those around one are also sacrificing, but the principal claim in this essay is that living a life of treating others well makes one’s own life so much better than living a life of taking advantage of others that to do so is not a sacrifice in the first place.  Live a life, yourself, of treating others well, let your example inspire those around you who are responsive, and let the big picture take care of itself.


The ways in which we could all contribute to reducing violence and eliminating war are fairly clear.  They are—

  • treat people well at all times, including all human beings around the globe, not just your close groups
  • do not take advantage of others, and do not try to benefit from others’ misfortunes
  • be honest and truthful
  • develop empathic capacity so as to understand others better and so as to create greater possibilities for gratifying emotional connections to other human beings
  • be responsible in all your interactions
  • treat others fairly at all times
  • view and treat all other human beings as basic equals
  • do not try to be or make yourself superior to others
  • cooperate whenever possible, to maximize the benefits of your actions to all
  • don’t use disapproval or rejection routinely as means to control the behavior of others
  • control your behavior, and do not act violently or harmfully toward others
  • manage your emotions so that you do not act to cause others undue harm
  • join in alliances with others (dyads, families, nations) that help us all to control our behavior and do the right thing

If you try your best to live by these principles, you will reduce the total violence in the world.  If you do not, then you will be increasing the total violence in the world, and you will have no cause to complain when others treat you the way you treat them.  It’s that simple.