Most people can agree to the principle of treating others nicely when dealing with reasonable people who also treat them in a positive way. But what should we do with people who treat us unfairly or harm us or others?
Povism teaches us that we should remember these people behave the way they do because of ignorance. What does it mean?
First, when dealing with a person with whom we already have a generally positive relationship, we should remember that if they do something that hurts us, they most probably did not intend to hurt us. Perhaps they said something that hurts us because they do not know how to express themselves in a way that we could listen to. Perhaps they also feel hurt and their painful emotions cause them to talk in an accusing tone because they never learned how to contain their feelings and handle such situations better. In this case, forgiveness is an important value. Also, we ought to learn emotional containment, emotional intelligence, and methods of non-violent communication.
With regards to those with whom we are not in a positive relationship, for example when we see someone littering in public, or when someone cuts in front of us while driving, or when anyone steals or assaults someone, or threatens us, we should remember that they grew up in an environment in which they learned such bad behaviors. This is said not in order to justify their behavior, or to claim that we should forgive them and absolve them, or not resist their attempts to harm us, but only in order to better understand the causes of their behavior so that we can increase the chance that our actions would successfully reduce the scope of this undesired phenomenon.
Because people seldom think that what they did is bad, merely shouting at them or attacking them rarely achieves any desired results. It merely makes the other person get defensive or attack back. Instead, it is more useful to learn how to ask them politely to do something else. As the saying goes: “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”. We should learn to resolve conflicts, as much as possible, through peaceful means and the art of negotiation.
Of course, in some cases this fails. And of course, each of us has a right of self-defense, to protect ourselves from an attack. If at this moment someone is physically threatening or attacking us, we have every right to act with all means necessary to stop him.
Still, we must act with a force proportionate to the attack, and not overreact out of vengeance or with cruelty or more force than is necessary to defend ourselves – otherwise, we’ll be no better than the attacker we wish to neutralize. Also, acting out of anger is not a good idea, as it leads to impairment of our judgment, and sometimes to catastrophic results for ourselves or others.
The harmed child
When we see an evil person who deliberately inflicts suffering upon others, we should see him for what he really is – not a powerful villain, but a six years old child who is powerless to protect himself from the suffering inflicted upon him by adults, a child which still lives inside the adult person and controls him. He deserves our pity, not our fear.
Education vs. punishment
While punishment may be necessary in some cases, it cannot by itself lead to what we really desire, namely a peaceful and harmonious society. There are many laws in the law books, and there are mechanisms of police and courts of law to enforce them, but nonetheless some people still behave violently, embezzle monies, litter in public, etc. The only way to significantly reduce undesirable behaviors in society is by means of positive education, with a lot of patience and understanding.
Example of a transformation
Let’s end with a story (based on minute 16 in this fascinating video): One day a man named Julio Diaz walked down the street, and some teenager threatened him with a knife to give him all his money. On the first level, as mentioned above, Julio had the right to self-defense of his life and property, and he would have been justified to use any means necessary to neutralize the boy (e.g. using martial arts). However, he understood the deeper level – the reason for the boy’s behavior, that he is actually a poor boy who has a difficult life that leads him to threaten people with a knife. So he did not react using force.
Instead, he gave the boy his wallet, and when the boy started running away, he shouted at him: “Hey, boy! It’s pretty cold now, do you want my jacket too?” The boy stopped, returned to him and said “yes”, but now he had a totally different energy. They started talking and Julio said: “I’m going to have dinner now, would you like to join me?” The boy agreed. They had an excellent conversation over dinner, at the end of which Julio said: “I’d be happy to pay the bill, but you have my wallet”. So the boy gave him his wallet back. And Julio said: “Can I ask for one more thing? Your knife”. And the boy naturally gave him the knife.
The deeper understanding of the situation and of the other person transformed the situation from danger and loss to one of profit for both sides – of giving and receiving and generosity.