Doing for others

10 Feb ’15: QofDay: Do for others

What are you doing for others?

Like many here – I do lots of things for the community – many committees, many organisations.

I try to help out where I can, and leave things a little better than when I found them. My Swiss Army knife is always in my pocket, and most days it comes out and fixes something somewhere – be it tighten a screw on a chair or a pot handle, or fix a computer, or repair something broken.

[followed by]

The idea of “wrong” has come up a few times here, and it seems open to a lot of misinterpretation, and seems worth a bit of enquiry and expansion.

For many people, it seems that saying “you can’t do it wrong” would be logically equivalent to saying “you are always doing it right”.

To me that interpretation is a mistake.

It seems clear to me that the whole concept of right and wrong is a simple approximation of maximising some form of social utility. It is the simplest of possible distinctions that on average over time tend to increase the social utility of actions. But actually there is no such thing as right or wrong, or good or bad. There are actions that have more useful outcomes for the community than dangerous outcomes for the community, and very rarely does any action have outcomes that are purely useful for all time, or purely not useful for all time. Most actions have mixed consequence the frequency and impact of which change over time and space, and between individuals.

So as small children we are taught, or make declarations for ourselves, that things are good or bad (including ourselves and others), yet neither thing is “True” in any sort of absolute sense.

All action, even inaction, has consequences, and chains of consequence continue until broken.

Choice seems to be something that can break chains of consequence.

We can choose things, create outcomes that would not otherwise have happened, create new chains of consequences, that spread like ripples on a pond out into the world of consequences and choices.

Saying “you can’t do it wrong” doesn’t mean you are doing it right, it means that both right and wrong are illusions, simple approximations. Nothing is either right or wrong in all places and all times. All choices, all habits, all unexamined cultures, have consequences, and some of those consequences are socially useful, and some are not; some were useful in the context of their historical development and are not nearly so useful in the context of the rapidly changing world we live in today.

So it seems very clear to me that declaring anything wrong (self, any action, any inaction, any thought, any other individual, anything at all), as some sort of fixed attribute, is not a useful way of classifying anything. Everything in existence is far more complex than that, people particularly so. Even the most sociopathic individual will have moments of caring and loving (they may just be a very small fraction of their overall patterns of activity – so they need to be restrained on that basis, but not unfairly or unkindly treated).

So I completely align the statement “you can’t do it wrong” from the viewpoint that right and wrong are simplistic illusions, and there is always a spectrum of consequence that flows from our choices, and it behoves each of us to think both cooperatively and on as long a term as we can, in terms of our impacts on other thinking entities, and on living systems more generally, in all of our actions, be they habitual, cultural or impulses or matters of choice.

It seems very clear to me that the more considered choice we bring into existence (where we consider the long term impacts of our actions on self, and others, and the environment), the more awareness we bring into existence (in understanding the depth of diversity and complexity that surrounds us at all levels), and the less declarative value judgements we make, the better off we all are.

All those small cooperative choices add up.

And it is powerful to be aware that some people cheat, and appear to be cooperative, while actually exploiting others for personal gain.

In order to make cooperation stable, the benefit of such cheating must be removed when it is identified. Failure to do so threatens the cooperative. This is not a matter of anything or anyone being bad or wrong, it is just a mathematical necessity. We can have compassion for an individual who had such a poor experience set that they felt the need to cheat, at the same time as we are removing any benefit they gained from cheating and warning others to be particularly vigilant in dealings with that individual.

[followed by]


That I can attest to – a lot of work indeed. And its never entirely rooted out (neural networks don’t appear to unlearn very well at all), one can just cultivate an awareness of it, and choose a context in which it no longer triggers.

[followed by]


I guess I see it a little differently.

Yes, certainly, at some levels neural networks can be altered.

Yes, certainly, repeated prolonged intention has a major impact.

And it seems clear to me that there are levels with the subconscious mind that rarely forget (not that we normally have much conscious level access to those levels).

It seems to me that in respect of these levels, is where we can most affect change through the creation of new levels of context, so that the old responses associated with the old contexts, simply no longer get to trigger. This is what, it seems to me, actually happens through repeated and prolonged intention (most of the time). It is the change of context that allows new modes of thought to be sustained, and without repeated prolonged work the old modes will tend to resurface.

And the complexity of the levels of systems involved, and the potential interactions involved are extremely complex – even at the high level mapping aspect.

And certainly there are many levels of reflected interactions, and certainly many of the lower level systems have a distinct cyclic nature (mostly derived from their underlying chemistry and sometimes derived from the feedbacks through other levels). And while I have done and continue to do quite a bit of study of developments in the realms of neurochemistry, neuroatomy and neural systems, much of my understanding comes from deep level work on myself, and the observation of such things in others (assisting on about 40 Landmark Forums was particularly powerful in this regard).

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see
This entry was posted in Question of the Day and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comment and critique welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s