For the Good of All

What makes us feel good about ourselves? For most, this feeling comes when we act in harmony with our moral ideals. Conversely, when what we do fails to match our ideals, we suffer a variety of consequences. Some consequences are apparent because the outer world confronts us whether we acknowledge our misdeed or not. Other consequences are less easy to see. For example, we may “get away with it” yet become haunted by an immoral action; we may experience a kind of 3:00 a.m. reckoning that disturbs much more than our sleep.

What, though, is the source of our moral ideals? If morality is simply an evolutionary trait that allows all of humanity—separate from all other living things—to survive, that would seem to imply that immoral people would not thrive, and yet, often, they apparently do just fine. So why bother trying to be good? Understanding this question is critical to our development as human beings. We need to understand our own personal sense of morality and why we feel so personally burdened by our mistakes.

Let’s see what Dr. Steiner has to say:

Concerning their sense of morality, people nowadays relate to the world in a very peculiar way, which is not always consciously observed but nevertheless causes much of the uncertainty and instability in their life. On the one hand, we have our intellectual knowledge, which enables us to understand natural phenomena, to conceive to a certain extent of the universe as a whole, and to develop a concept of the nature of the human being. This concept, though, is a very limited one… In addition to our capacity for knowing, that is, to everything that is controlled by our logic, another element of our being makes itself felt, namely the one we draw our ethical duty and ethical love from, in short, our motivation for acting morally…

These ideals are so important to us that we feel worthy only when we live up to them. In other words, we measure our worth by whether we live in harmony with our ethical ideas…

We simply have to face the fact that our modern consciousness cannot bridge the chasm between our capacities for knowing, which have brought us knowledge of nature, and the capacities that guide us as ethical being…

We are not aware of everything that goes on in the depths of our soul; much remains unconscious. Still, what rumbles around in our unconscious makes itself felt in our everyday life in disharmony and in psychological and even physical illnesses.

Excerpt from: Social Issues: Meditative Thinking & the Threefold Social Order, Lecture Two, Zurich 17/03/1920 by Rudolf Steiner

The belief that honesty, charity, humility, etc. are moral qualities, comes not from our logical mind; the reality of these qualities resides within our soul. We need to find ways to decipher the unconscious rumblings of our soul in order to close the gap between where we are and where we want to be ideally. Therapies of various sorts can help us deal with the discomfort of our feelings, but these therapies can be only superficial since that discomfort is our soul’s response to the gap itself.

One more perspective from Dr. Steiner:

The higher worlds convey to us the impulses and powers for living, and in this way, we get a basis for morality. Schopenhauer once said: “To preach morality is easy, to find a foundation for it, difficult.” But without a true foundation we can never make morality our own. People often say: Why worry about the knowledge of higher worlds so long we are good men and have moral principles? In the long run no mere preaching of morality will be effective; but a knowledge of the truth gives morality a sound basis. To preach morality is like preaching to a stove about its duty to provide warmth and heat while not giving it any coal. If we want a firm foundation for morality, we must supply the soul with fuel in the form of knowledge of the truth.

Excerpt from: At the Gates of Spiritual Science, Lecture Two: The Three Worlds, Stuttgart 23/08/06

The reluctance to acknowledge morality’s role in our lives is one aspect of our lazy thinking today. Morality is a fact of our being, and that fact is an obvious refutation to the argument for a life considered whole within the confines of our senses alone. Perhaps we don’t need to suffer blindly or muddle around with nebulous ideas about why we hold ourselves to moral standards at all. Wisdom—knowledge of the truth of higher worlds—leads us to answers about the source of morality that lies within each of us. Truth will, ultimately, set us free.

Jordan Peterson and Rudolf Steiner: What is the Greatest Idea?

Nothing But the Truth

Seeking to find the humanity in the other may feel like an effort we just cannot make right now—the stakes are too high; there is too much to lose. How did we get here?

A scary factor of the 21st century so far is that many of the most successful companies are information/entertainment providers, and while some are not yet monopolies, their dominance is unquestionable. All over the world, whether we are progressive or conservative, we are likely to be influenced by the empires that feed us the media we consume. Our media choices lend support to our beliefs, but why did we choose those particular sources? Do we instantly base the worth and accuracy of new information on what we already believe? How much resistance do we feel when our beliefs are challenged?

When people allow their opinions to become their truths, we can watch them becoming unsociable in varying degrees. We all know people who hold strong opinions that cloud their ability to see any flaws in their thinking. We all see friends and family that used to avoid contentious topics amongst each other now finding they can’t be together at all. Are we ourselves like these people?

Even if we conscientiously fact check the accuracy of what we are reading or watching before we believe it or pass it along, perhaps we could dig deeper. If we explored the origins of our own beliefs, despite the discomfort that might arise, we might begin to understand how those with whom we disagree believe what they do. What, then, is gained by understanding the other?

Let’s see what Dr. Steiner* has to say:

Inasmuch as we devote ourselves inwardly to truth, our true self gains in strength and will enable us to cast off self-interest. Anger weakens us; truth strengthens us… Love of truth is the only love that sets the Ego (our “I”) free. And directly man gives priority to anything else, he falls inevitably into self-seeking. Herein lies the great and most serious importance of truth for the education of the human soul. Truth conforms to no man, and only by devotion to truth can truth be found. Directly man prefers himself and his own opinions to the truth, he becomes antisocial and alienates himself from the human community. Look at people who make no attempt to love truth for its own sake but parade their own opinions as the truth: they care for nothing but the content of their own souls and are the most intolerant. Those who love truth in terms of their own views and opinions will not suffer anyone to reach truth along quite a different path. They put every obstacle in the way of anyone with different abilities who comes to opinions unlike their own. Hence the conflicts that so often arise in life. An honest striving for truth leads to human understanding, but the love of truth for the sake of one’s own personality leads to intolerance and the destruction of other people’s freedom.

… [Truth] can be sought for and attained through personal effort only by beings capable of thought. Inasmuch as truth is acquired by thinking, we must realize very clearly that there are two kinds of truth. First we have the truth that comes from observing the world of Nature around us and investigating it bit by bit in order to discover its truths, laws and wisdom. When we contemplate the whole range of our experience in this way, we come to the kind of truth that can be called the truth derived from “reflective” thinking—we first observe the world and then think about our findings.

There are also other truths. These cannot be gained by reflective thought, but only by going beyond everything that can be learned from the outer world… [One is] derived from reflective thought and the other from “creative” thought.

Excerpt from: Metamorphoses of the Soul: Paths of Experience, Lecture 3: The Mission of Truth, 22/10/1909, Berlin by Rudolf Steiner

We may, occasionally, need to look away from the incessant news of the day and all of the opinions masquerading as truths that create such enormous inner turmoil. We can seek to understand others without justifying their ideas or actions. The path to eternal truth is not a straight line; it’s not even a single path—as many people as we are so are the number of paths to be taken. The error we see in the way others are going may not be an error for them; it may be exactly the way they need to go to get to the truth—the same truth toward which our own path leads us.

If we would seek ideas that are larger than the mundane world, we would have to accept that eternal truths are real and possible to know. If we resolve to learn these truths, we will do so by thinking creatively. If we don’t, humanity seems doomed to suffer the endless conflicts between people of differing ideologies, faiths, and cultures. Steiner points to ways we might pursue these truths.


Mistakes Were Made, (but not by me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy by Jonathan Taplin.