by Martha Gallahue
The topic “Treating Each Other Well” is geared more toward maintaining membership rather than membership growth. When we treat each other well, we demonstrate to potential members who we are. In fact, we may be held to a higher standard for treating each other well than the general public because the way we act towards each other is an element of ethical behavior. Ethical behavior is not just participation in an Ethical Societies activities or ethical action/volunteering. Ethical behavior is lived in the words we choose when we communicate with each other and the concern and compassion we demonstrate through non-verbal communication. Ethical Culture Leader Kate Lovelady writes that humanism emphasizes communication skills whereas traditional Western religions emphasize worshipping a higher power and traditional Eastern religions emphasize meditation. When Ethical Societies lose established members, it may be due to conflict or lack of communication within the society.
One way to bring out the “best in others and thereby bring out the best in ourselves” is to be cognizant of the sensibilities of others, treating each other with greater kindness and striving for harmonious, successful relationships within our societies. Good intention is important but what it does to others is also important. We can have nice feelings and thoughts but we are what we do, how we relate, how we act, what we create. Acting to build right relationships and trust among members is an essential part of building an ethical community.
The Brooklyn Society has worked with the Alban Institute to address the issue of treating each other well. Some of the suggestions offered by the Alban Institute are:
- speak for yourself and then from your own experience
- ascribe good intentions to others regardless of their perspective
- listen with respect and refrain from engaging in blaming language
- use descriptive, not evaluative or inflammatory language
- place principles before personalities, criticize issues rather than people, do not interrupt
- address interpersonal problems with face to face interactions
- do not speak for others, do not gossip
When “treating each other well” is Googled, over 4,000 entries appear. One of these entries comes from Zen Habits which offers “18 Practical Tips for Living the Golden Rule.” Here are 10 of these items: practice empathy, practice compassion, imagine how someone else would like to be treated (not necessarily how you would want to be treated), be friendly and welcoming, be helpful, listen to others rather than just wait your turn to talk, overcome prejudice, stop criticism, and interact with others in a positive way. Rise above retaliation. Treat each other well despite how someone else may treat you. A Gandhi said: Be the change—not just in large matters but in small ways too. Treat each other with compassion and kindness.
All of us together need to prioritize practicing the skills to treat each other well and to develop the vocabulary to communicate with empathy. Many Ethical Societies sponsor workshops incorporating communications skills such as Non-Violent Communication workshops and/or dialogue vs. debate. These workshops are useful places to gain relationship tools—but modeling good relationships in our Ethical Societies is the best example of how to treat each other.
Treating each other well is not just isolated to verbal communication. Nonverbal cues communicate at least as much as language does when considering how we treat each other. True, there are cultural differences in interpreting nonverbal cues but within the American culture eye contact, facial expression, tone of voice, posture, touch, intensity, timing and pace and sounds that convey understanding such as “ahh, umm, ohh communicate interest and attitude. (See Helpguide.org section on Nonverbal Communication.)
Ethical Culture/Ethical Humanism turns the authority dynamic upside down. Every person has an equal share of authority in our human world and that fact makes being right and good more difficult. Right depends on the needs of many and good is not a sure thing but a quality we bring to our relationships. We have to figure out how to act depending on what we find in the relationship. We can either manipulate and use others for our satisfaction or find satisfaction in loving the actual living presence in front of us. The opposite of love is indifference. Loving means involvement and it changes everything.
Of course that is our theory; actual living and loving are more complicated. Reality isn’t perfect and perfection does not need love, we do. Love is a quality that brings out the best in others and ourselves. Treating each other well is a way of practicing and living out our Ethical ideals.