A He Goat Doesn’t Know He Smells

November 11, 2006 at 7:49 pm Leave a comment

 One of the best things about the internet is being able to buy books online. You have a vast choice, they are reasonably priced and they come quickly to your door. On a recent buying spree I ordered a book and the vendor offered some suggestions on books I might like. I was intrigued by one titled “The Happiness Hypothesis” by Jonathan Haidt. It was subtitled “Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. Why the Meaningful Life is Closer Than You Think.” Haidt’s ancient wisdom was based on ten great ideas that he had researched. I was hoping to get a breakdown of these ten great ideas and what systems they came from and how they applied to life today. It turns out that he is a psychologist and the book demonstrates how the meaningful life we seek today can be found through these great ideas.

My passion of late has been theology with an eye on philosophy. They both seem to deal with why we are the way we are except for theology’s inclusion of God and philosophy’s ability to ignore God. I now add psychology to that list (on the ignore God side). Haidt demonstrates a basic human characteristic, perhaps the main one. It is called reciprocity and involves our own perfection, the faults of others and our need to get even.

The human creature lives its’ life constantly evaluating the faults of others while ignoring its’ own. We evaluate who has harmed us unjustly due to those faults and plan our future actions accordingly, usually escalating the pay back. Gossip is one way we get even with others for a small slight while physical retaliation can be our way with a major slight or transgression. This is reciprocity. The nice thing for us is that we are the sole judge as to the validity of our judgment. On the good side, when someone occasionally does us a kindness, we are disposed to pay that person back in kind as well, although no escalation is usually involved. In considering this I could see where theology, philosophy and psychology all recognize this basic human fault. The lesson to be learned could easily be summed up in the Golden Rule; “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

The ancient wisdom concerning fault that Haidt cites comes (in reverse order of antiquity) from Christianity, Buddhism and Nigerian proverbs.

Christianity (Matthew 7:3-5)

Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? … you hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.

Buddhism (Dhammapada 252):

It is easy to see the faults of others but difficult to see one’s own faults. One shows the faults of others like chaff winnowed in the wind, but one conceals one’s own faults as a cunning gambler conceals his dice

Nigerian Proverb:

A he goat doesn’t realize he smells

I have come to see religion as an invention of humanity to address the flaws of human nature. It sprung up when the fact of certain mortality dawned on humankind along with the question of “Why are we here then?” Could one of the first realizations have been that our main flaw is fault finding and reciprocity? Hence the ancient Nigerian proverb. Could one of the first deductions of first human have been that we need to get along? Hence the Golden Rule. Haidt’s great ideas from ancient wisdom seems to support this.

In today’s world we as individuals, nations and societies still see the speck in the eye of another. The answer to correcting that is found in the Golden Rule but the difficulty is overcoming that basic fault finding trait of humanity. Of course Jesus has the answer (along with Buddha, Gandhi, John Lennon and others) and the answer is Love. We don’t find fault in ourselves because we love ourself. Jesus taught us the answer saying, “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.”   


Entry filed under: Wrestling With God.


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