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The Individual vs The Common Good: Responding to antisocial behavior with inclusive (prosocial) action

Inclusive social action is intentional action to stop specific violence in a manner that does not further divisiveness.

~ School for Esoteric Studies (SES)


Responding to antisocial behavior through inclusive social action stops the harm in ways that help establish or restore right relations between the parties and between them and the greater Whole. 


Persons, groups, and nations are subsets that make up the whole or common Good. We can surmise that antisocial behavior includes any activity by an individual, group, nation, or group of nations antagonistic to other parts of the greater Whole. Such behaviors include corporate profiteering, overuse of planetary resources at the expense of the health and well-being of weaker nations and their citizens, misinformation campaigns that distort truth, usurpations of national sovereignty as evidenced in Russian President Vladimir Putin's war against Ukraine, and a "win at all costs" retributive response as witnessed in Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's war on Gaza and its civilian population in retaliation for the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israeli civilians. Of course, many other historical and present-day examples exist, implicating many people and nations, including the U.S.


Teaching at a residential all-boys high school for at-risk students, I had the opportunity to engage with a variety of antisocial behaviors. Disruptions of the school's social cohesion ran the gamut between skipping class, bringing vapes and alcohol onto campus, bullying, fighting, refusing to do assignments, dress code violations, confrontations with adults, and other more mild mischievous acts to be expected from a bunch of adolescent boys, often bored and irritable at having to live away from home, friends, and what they considered normalcy. For most schools, how to handle these antisocial behaviors typically falls under "classroom management." Of course, theories about how to manage a classroom abound. I generally found them too prescriptive, time-consuming, and antithetical to education's primary goal: to awaken each child to their capabilities and responsibilities, helping them become whole to serve the greater Whole.


After a few weeks into my first year of teaching, I didn't post classroom rules that I created or decided in tandem with students. I made a deliberate decision to trust the process, which meant I would set an example in my daily interactions with students, teachers, and other adults on campus that I expected the students to follow. The Be-ness of modeling the Good held me accountable to the beauty, truth, and goodness I wanted to instill in my charges. 


According to their stages of development and awareness, some students more easily than others conformed to the Good they observed in the rhythm and effectiveness of daily affairs that I orchestrated. As a result (and not surprising!), the less chaotic and calmer the classroom and campus became, the more some students' deeply ingrained antisocial patterns rose to the surface. This rising chaos is unmistakable on a national and international level, too. The pressure from a true expression of the will-to-Good within a group, nation, or the world at large forces to the surface whatever opposes the realization of the one humanity and one planet.


There are always selfishly individualistic entities attempting to thwart humanity's progress and realization of unity. These malefic forces exist in every nation, class, race, and religion. They seek to reinforce our sense of separation and foment antagonism between people and nations. Transforming them requires a similar approach that I used when dealing with students' antisocial behaviors: an adapted Right Relations Protocol (RRP) (as outlined in Unleashing the Good: How We Learn to Prioritize the Common Good Over Personal Gain, which includes the following three steps:


Recognize the many paths to truth, resulting in right understanding. Recognize that each person, group, and nation is on a pathway that leads to the realization that they are part of the one humanity and one world. Some are nearer to this realization than others. But the destination is guaranteed. Practice recognizing (and intelligently nurturing) the divine or spiritual aspect within each, unifying each to all that is.


When assessing present national and international challenges, we can ask: How can my group(s) or nation help all parties to this conflict acknowledge and express their higher, spiritual nature (and, in so doing, help us nurture our own divine expression) and collectively materialize the common Good?


Assess intent, resulting in rightly directed intent. Ask to what extent our group(s) or nation is motivated by a more selfless or selfish intent. Practice recognizing when groups or nations are expressing as group conscious impersonal individualities, promoting cooperation and synthesis, or self-conscious individual personalities, leading more often than not to competition and division.


When groups and nations are in self-protective mode, which naturally arises in times of fear or duress, we can ask: What motivates them to take action right now? To what extent does my group or nation fully understand the circumstances and needs of the other parties to this conflict to ensure that our response furthers the common good rather than only those of our own group, nation, and allies?


Practice (loving) detachment, resulting in right action. Realize how the collective thoughts, words, and actions of my group(s) and nation reinforce separation rather than the goal of unity. Right understanding and rightly directed intention help guide our relationships — group-to-group and nation-to-nation — away from a separative diversity to promote, instead, a realized unity in diversity.


When clashing with other groups' or nations' ideals, ideologies, and actions, we can ask: What actions can my group or nation take to reinforce the other's sense of unity, motivating a change in their consciousness that leads them towards more prosocial behavior, benefiting the whole?


Right understanding.

People, nations, and our entire world exist on a continuum between capably expressing themselves as self-directed personalities or group-oriented souls. Relationship cleavages between countries and people stem from the same underlying issues: hatred, aggression, and separateness. All conflicts between and among people, groups, and nations result from some combination of these three modes of relating. The spiritual counterparts to these — love, selfless sharing, and synthesis — become increasingly visible when we deliberately begin to recognize and live according to our higher spiritual nature. The challenge, of course, is learning how to navigate the messy middle in which we are currently expressing without deepening divisions and hindering our own and others' progress. Helping to alleviate harm requires loving understanding and skill in action based on two considerations of how best to:

  • Strengthen the will of the one being harmed so that they can eventually discover and play their part within the greater Whole, and

  • Redirect the aggressor to consider the good of the whole without unduly subverting their will.


The wise interplay of both aspects — strengthening the will of one and refusing to retard the development of the other while helping both recognize the Good and their part in it — helps to resolve all disagreements, heal relationships, and bring harmony out of chaos.


Rightly directed intent.

Restorative practices in schools and communities arose from criminal justice programs designed to repair harm and restore relationships. The key to the success of such practices is a firm insistence that each actor is an indissoluble part of the whole and, therefore, when rightly oriented to the common good, capable of contributing positively to its welfare. Whereas restorative justice prioritizes making the parts once again whole, retributive justice, through its emphasis on making others suffer similarly to the suffering they've caused, reinforces separation. Punishing bad actors, in essence, undermines social cohesion and increases the potential for even greater antisocial behaviors. Within criminal justice, high rates of recidivism and escalating criminality are two of the results of an essentially punitive approach.


Exclusion and expulsion are often reflexive responses to individuals, groups, and nations deemed to be engaging in antisocial behavior. Without intent to reintegrate such actors into the whole (however long it may take), we risk making bad situations worse. When we treat students who exhibit antisocial behaviors as expendable, it is no surprise that they engage in more of the behaviors we find objectionable. The only way to end the harm is to bring them back into the fold. Similarly, ending the damage caused by groups or nations must be carried out in ways that leave open the possibility and even incentivize eventual reintegration within the whole.  


Whenever possible, our responses to antisocial behaviors and actors must engage their higher spiritual nature or soul to assist them in seeking to restore their relationships with others. When helped to engage their more selfless divine nature, they usher in the changed perspective that brings contrition for past wrongs and, at the same time, offsets their potential to cause additional harm. An inner synthesis helps individuals and nations seek and create harmonious relationships with others, restoring relationships based on a more genuine sense of mutuality and solidarity as a result of recognizing that separateness, antagonism, and untamed desires caused one to act against another and the common good in the first place. Our aim, then, is to regain all that was lost: unity with one and all.


Further, when restorative practices prioritize strengthening the will of the group or nation harmed, enabling them to develop the capacity to demonstrate eventually their unique divine contribution to the whole requires an understanding of their stage of development and, therefore, what assistance they most need to ensure that they become capably self-aware, self-directed, and self-expressing contributors to the common good.


Right action.

Helping to further right relations between and among people, groups, and nations requires prosocial action that limits further harm, strengthens the will of the one harmed while refusing to subvert the aggressor's free will, and directs all parties to recognize and will-the-Good in service to the Commons. Reducing present harm demands immediate wise action based on understanding the circumstances as they are, which differ greatly depending on the parties involved, their history, and the potential of the aggressor to further world disequilibrium and disunity. Those seeking to intervene on others' behalf must have a right sense of values that tend towards the common good and a proper sense of proportion to determine the type and method of intervention needed.


The will-to-evil must be met by an equally determined and directed will-to-Good.


The will-to-Good is loving understanding and a rightly directed intent to bring harmony out of chaos and realize the common Good factually, not theoretically.


Applying the RRP to the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Gaza (Hamas) conflicts, the following are some suggestive thoughts on the U.S. intra-group and national responses to each conflict.


Russia-Ukraine 

The U.S. and other nations have the right to support Ukraine's defense of its sovereignty. We are justified in defending Ukraine's independence despite adherence to previous territorial claims. Just as an individual has a dual identity as itself and as part of a greater whole, nations are permitted to define their selfhood to further their recognition and contribution to the world. Russia is the clear-cut aggressor in this conflict, exerting its will selfishly. Even assuming that President Vladimir Putin is rightly motivated by an envisioned unity, Russia cannot achieve it at the expense of Ukraine's free choice. 


Further, supporting Ukraine by providing financial and military aid and sanctions against Russian government assets, trade, economic sectors, and specific individuals and entities can help teach Russia the lesson that separative, individualistic action is wrong. Suffering is not the purpose of these actions but the natural consequence of Russia's knowing and deliberate harm to Ukraine. Such action does not arrest Russia's free will to choose right or wrong action (as the war continues). Still, it makes explicit the consequences of its choices while, at the same time, providing opportunities for a new choice to be made and a changed decision that promotes the good of the whole instead of one selfishly motivated.


Israel-Gaza

Particularly as the war in Gaza escalated, U.S. government officials have disagreed (as have average citizens) about how the nation should respond as a result of the increasing humanitarian crisis, leading to widespread starvation, the deaths of over 30,000 civilians, many of them children, and increased disease due to overcrowding, inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene protections in Gaza. Tellingly, President Biden's response has shifted from his original unconditional Israeli support to what some indicate as a growing frustration with Prime Minister Netanyahu's seemingly reckless disregard for civilian casualties in the war against Hamas.


The U.S.'s role in intervening in this conflict must seek to understand and achieve an outcome that benefits the common good, which necessarily includes the safe return of hostages, containment of Hamas and their divisive ideology, right relations between Israelis and Palestinians, establishing peaceful co-existence between Israel and Gaza, and limiting harm to civilians. Further, a rightly directed intent must take into consideration the will of the Palestinian people to be free to determine their selfhood despite how Hamas has corrupted this vision to further its separative ends. Lastly, right action must always strive to end the harm (as understood based on the common good) and institute restorative practices that increase all parties’ recognition of their indissoluble unity within the greater Whole and a desire to contribute their best to the Whole.


Netanyahu emphasized three goals to this war, including obtaining the release of the hostages, destroying Hamas, and ensuring Gaza does not pose a threat to Israel in the future. In addition, he continues to reject the two-state solution. He insists (with the support of the Israeli parliament) that recognition of a Palestinian state must be negotiated, taking it off the table at this time and, perhaps, indefinitely. Netanyahu's post-war plans appear to indicate a return to tighter and stricter controls within Gaza by Israel, with little attention paid to Palestinians, who are as much the victims of Hamas as they are of Israel. 


Therefore, Netanyahu's prolonged attack (and disregard for civilians) on Gaza is indefensible because it is, on its face, retributive rather than restorative. His assault upon Palestinians, who are equally victims of Israeli aggression and Hamas militancy, preventing aid and permitting widespread death and disease to women, children, and the elderly can only further divide the people of that region and each side's supporters throughout the world. Consequently, Israel's war in Gaza may seem justified as a human response (seeking retribution for the Oct. 7 attack) and, at the same time, unjust when considering the long-term good of Israel, the Middle East, and the good of the Whole, as Biden has stated.  


Rebuking international pressure for a six-week ceasefire to allow in aid, Netanyahu fortified his intentions to seek victory at all costs and inflict the maximum suffering upon Hamas and all of Gaza. The question we can ask those sympathetic to Israel's position is this: Is a win-at-all-costs approach likely to restore safety to Israel in the long run? Or will this war provide the basis upon which new hostilities and division among a new generation of Palestinians and their sympathizers throughout the Middle East and the world grow?


We will further alienate others when suffering is the aim instead of restoration, which leaves open the possibility for redemption. As the United States has begun to learn, we cannot build enough prisons or sufficiently segregate ourselves from bad actors by fleeing from cities to suburbs. There are no places within our communities, cities, nations, and world left untouched by our collective and arrayed lack of cohesion and self-centered regard. We cannot run from it. We must face the fact that our shared indiscretions have undermined right relationships between and among families, friends, colleagues, and groups of people everywhere. The end to suffering begins with our refusal to further inflict suffering even upon those who have caused us harm. 


Immediately after Hamas attacked Israel, President Biden stated unwavering support for Israel. His response, however, has evolved from staunch support to increased frustration with Netanyahu, calling Israel's response "over the top" and warning Israel against attacking Rafah without a plan to protect civilians. What we've seen with Biden's response is a gradual shift from a personal to a more wise and impersonal response. Nonetheless, Biden continues to supply weapons to Israel even while making strides to provide aid to Gaza, broker long-term peace talks, and leverage his relationship with Netanyahu to elicit a change in him: heart and mind. 


Loyalty among national allies is not unlike what is expected among friends. We may expect (demand) our closest associates to come to our aid without asking too many questions, especially in the face of such an egregious act as Hamas perpetuated on Oct. 7. As the counter-offensive has endured, the bigger picture has become more apparent to Biden, necessitating a course correction that includes wise action that seeks the good of Israel, Palestinians in Gaza, the Middle East, and even the initial aggressor, Hamas. Balancing the needs of the various parties with a constant eye towards world synthesis, as is evident with Biden's changing position and stronger articulation of a will-to-Good (unifying) solution (galvanized by the goodwill aspirations of the many clamoring voices of people everywhere!), shifts one's perspective away from more purely self-serving reactions to permit actions based on a broader vision inclusive of the whole. 


As Biden recognizes Israel as the one harmed by Hamas and the one harming the larger Palestinian community in Gaza, the U.S. response becomes more nuanced, combining similar approaches as used to support Ukraine in defending itself and reasonable consequences to Russian aggression. Israel's right to protect itself can't be at the expense of the good of the Whole. Intervention by the U.S. must help to establish and restore right relations between Israel and Palestine and restore each party's relationship to the whole. We must take those steps that support Israel to defend itself against the invasion by Hamas and, at the same time, enforce such limitations upon Israel to help it learn the lesson that separative, individualistic action is wrong. We do not do so by infringing upon Israel's free will to choose rightly or wrongly but to tailor our response as needed to further the common Good.  


Such deliberate action does not arrest Israel's free will to choose right or wrong action. Still, it makes explicit the consequences of its choices while, at the same time, providing opportunities for a new choice to be made and a changed decision that promotes the good of the Whole instead of one selfishly motivated. Further, Biden recognizes that maintaining proximity instead of casting off or cutting ties is necessary to maintain a positive persistence of influence that can create an opportunity for change. While awaiting Netanyahu's change of heart, the U.S. must continue to bring relief to those harmed by providing aid: food, sanitation, and medical supplies. Others insist that he must also stop supplying weapons, which is rumored to be on the table if Netanyahu fails to heed Biden's warning not to invade Rafah


Chuck Schumer, Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate and highest-ranking Jewish elected official in the U.S., listed Netanyahu, rightwing Israelis, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, as "the four obstacles to peace" that would trap Israel and the West Bank and Gaza "in the same violent state of affairs they've experienced for the last 75 years." The tenor of our collective response to the Israel-Gaza conflict increasingly tends toward justice and ensnares humanity as a whole, evidenced by widespread international discord demanding our attention and often forcing us to take a side without due consideration for what is best for the greater Whole. 


Yet, persistently choosing the third and Middle Way can move us to adopt an inclusive, prosocial approach that doesn't bind the wronged to murmurs of an intangible peace but conditions all responses based on an intent to further unity rather than deepen division. As somewhat elucidated above, we can see clearly how right understanding, rightly directed intent, and right action can help groups and nations respond to antisocial behaviors and actors in ways that prioritize the common Good, mitigating harm and helping to establish or restore right relations between the parties and between them and the greater Whole.


We must not only task ourselves with weighing in as concerned global citizens but also practice what we preach within our families, communities, workplaces, and nation. When practiced daily and in all areas of life, the RRP helps us individually and collectively unleash the GOOD within our environment and upon Earth. Reminding ourselves that the causes of war and all that ails humanity are the result of human separateness and selfishness, we strive to develop within ourselves an equally powerful counterforce based on a selfless, group conscious will-to-GOOD.


To learn more about inclusive social action, visit SES.

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