A code of recommendations promoting a worthy, safe, and happy life of the individual*
During its entire history mankind has worked out rules of moral conduct for the individual. In spite of significant ethnic, cultural, and religious differences human societies have arrived at similar prescriptions for proper behaviour. This article offers a code of recommendations which, in my opinion, promote a worthy, safe, and happy life of the individual. They took shape as a result of studying documents containing precepts, teachings, declarations and other prescriptions regarding a person's conduct in society.
As everyone knows, the prescriptions of the Old Testament underwent a certain evolution and were presented in somewhat different form in later documents, the Gospels, the Koran, and even the Moral Code of the Builder of Communism (1961). For example, part of the teachings of Jesus Christ repeat the precepts of the Old Testament but other precepts become more humane, proclaiming a love for one's neighbor and actually for all people. The precept of the Old Testament, "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" is missing in the Gospels and instead Jesus Christ teaches: "do not resist an evil person". Not only the "stick", God's punishment, but also the "carrot", eternal life in a heavenly kingdom, begin to serve as instruments of influence.
An analysis of the prescriptions contained in these documents shows that many of them have essentially maintained their relevance, although have to be slightly reformulated with allowance for modern ideas. Other rules are unacceptable for the contemporary state of moral development of mankind. New circumstances of life have appeared which require new rules. Thus there is a certain need to reexamine the prescriptions which we have inherited and to formulate them in a renewed and expanded form. The need for the modernization of moral standards became especially evident in the 20th century, which was marked by many changes in all spheres of human life. One of the reactions to this need was the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in the middle of the 20th century which reflected an increased role of the individual in the life of society. It affirmed certain rights for every individual; however, it said almost nothing about his duties with respect to society. It seems that the pendulum has swung in the other direction, from the responsibilities and prohibitions which dominate in traditional moral codes to the rules and demands presented to society by the individual.
The international humanist movement adopted several documents in the 20th century, "Humanist Manifesto I" (1933), "Humanist Manifesto II" (1973), "Declaration of Secular Humanism" (1980), "Declaration of Interdependence" (1988), "2000 Humanist Manifesto, a Call For a New Planetary Humanism" (2000). The supremacy of universal human moral standards with consideration for contemporary realities was proclaimed, but the main humanist value is the worth of the individual whose freedom is harmonized with responsibility to society. The real existence of interdependence and mutual obligations between the individual and society is established. The need to achieve a global moral consensus is recognized.
The idea of the need for a global declaration of not only rights but of the individual's responsibility has also found reflection in a number of projects of worldwide scale. In 1997 the Interaction Council submitted a draft Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities for discussion by the world public. Drafts of a Declaration of Human Responsibility were also developed by the Zemlyanin group of the St. Petersburg Union of Scientists, I. I. Kondrashin, Yu. Panteleyev, and others. However, at the present time not one of these drafts has been officially accepted by international organizations.
In 2006 the X World Russian People’s Council adopted a "Declaration of the Rights and Dignity of the Individual" which said, "the eternal moral law has a firm basis in the human spirit regardless of culture, ethnicity, or living circumstances" and "we are striving for a dialog with people of different faiths and views on the issues of the rights of individuals and their place in the hierarchy of values".
In the article "Morality is Natural" (Zdraviy Smysl, 2007, N? 4 (45), pp. 8-11) Paul Kurtz writes, “there are basic moral principles that civilized communities share… Here I wish to close with a new moral obligation that is both realistic and attainable. Thus we can extend our moral concern to the entire planetary community of which we are a part”.
The need to achieve a world ethical consensus was also recognized in a conversation between Prof. S. P. Kapitsa, Academician V. S. Stepin, and Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad (19.01.2008, the Ochevidnoe-Neveroyatnoe [Obvious-Improbable] program on the TV channel “Rossiya”).
Considering these opinions about the need for a global ethical consensus and the readiness of various public groups for a dialog with people of different convictions, I submit for consideration recommendations regarding the individual and public behavior of a modern individual. They are based on the above documents and the idea that religious prescriptions are based on many years of human experience in the area of interpersonal and public relations. Religious prescriptions are primarily based on the fear of God, fear of punishment in Hell, and promises of reward in the form of a heavenly life in the next world. These recommendations assume a person's conscious choice of a worthy way of life and behavior which, it seems, ensures his happiness and well-being in the long term and with the highest probability and also promotes the well-being of those around him.
Thus, a code of universal human recommendations regarding wise and proper human behavior is offered which is harmonized with the laws of nature and society. Of course, the life of each person is so rich and varied that it hardly could and needs to be limited by a finite set of any sort of moral requirements. Therefore these recommendations reflect in short form only the principles of moral and worthy behavior. It is also obvious that they can only be adequately practices only if a person freely accepts and agrees with them. In this case his actions will not contradict them.
I hope that readers who consider the need to work out a code of vital recommendations addressed to each person on Earth to highly meaningful will make their own suggestions about improving its text and express their opinion about the ways and prospects for its adoption by the global community of people.
- live and act in harmony with the nature of your own organism. Lead a health way of life. Concern yourself for your health. Place reasonable limits on your demands. Avoid disinformation, unnecessary information, and the influence of factors which cause physical and/or psychological dependence.
- live and act in accord with your own conscience and value system in which the health and well-being of the individual and society and the preservation of wildlife and inanimate nature should be first priority. Conscience is the basis of self-control and self-government systems; with regular attention to it the role of external control and management of an individual's conduct is minimized and vanishes. Conscience is the best protection against unfavorable psychological influences on your behavior.
- seek moral health, its preservation and reinforcement. Try to find time and a place daily to be at one with yourself, with your reason and conscience. Analyze your own behavior and way of life. Try to get rid of your own unworthy motives, but in the event you behave unworthily admit to yourself, repent, and ask forgiveness of those you have offended. In difficult situations of moral choice rely on the main criterion, your own conscience.
- reflect and work out your own judgments about reality. Do not limit yourself to simple diametrically opposed assessments of "good" and "evil" but try to make objective, flexible, and considered judgments.
- improve your intellect and deepen your knowledge. Develop intellectually and don't lose a direct, unbiased view of vital events.
- keep your honor and dignity. In spite of difficulty, try to develop and enrich your convictions, your inner world, and yourself as an individual. Defend your views, your faith, or unbelief only through dialog, discussion and proof, without resorting to violence or threats of violence.
- maintain in yourself a feeling of love for people, wildlife, and inanimate nature, toward your native land, toward people close to you and far from you. Do not be indifferent to injustice.
- one ought to deal with other people politely and courteously. Be properly respectful and kind to every person. If you don't like everything in a person, try to see in them what you respect and love and avoid what might alienate or produce conflict. Don't do to others what you would not have them do you. When necessary try to give a person help within your ability.
- respect and love those whom you consider worthy, but do not make idols of them, that is, do not deprecate your own worth and do not lose a sober, critical view. Do not yield to the common and suspicious feeling of worshipping pop stars, "twisted" celebrities, and idols.
- be charitable. Empathize with the weak, the sick, victims of disaster, and the unfortunate. Help them to adapt and conduct an active constructive life allowing for their limited possibilities.
- do good not from vanity and not for show but as an extremely important and sometimes even difficult thing.
- be grateful to another or others for the good they have done you.
- respect those convictions which are not criminal and the views of others regardless of whether they coincide with yours or not. Be patient with them on condition that they do not insult the civic, moral, or esthetic feelings of people and cause them no obvious psychological harm. When pronouncing judgment about the views and actions of other people try to be unbiased, just, and tactful in form.
- avoid anger, impatience, rage, and hate. When dealing with people remember first of all your own shortcomings, especially when you see the shortcomings of others. Try not to be outraged when you encounter the unworthy acts of people; when necessary, express your attitude or assessment in a civilized, uninsulting manner.
- before taking an extreme position, calling a person, a group of people, or a country your enemy (even if temporarily), carefully analyze his (their) motivations and try to understand them. Decide your possible actions in accordance with the results of [your] analysis, firstly contributing to the removal of the reasons for the aggressive actions of the other side. Try to turn opposition into dialog and cooperation and the other side into a neutral object or friend. Try up to the last opportunity to solve the difference by negotiation and compromise and to not switch to force.
- do not kill and do not cause suffering to a living thing without extreme necessity. Moreover, do not do this from pleasure and enjoyment (bullfighting, hunting, amateur fishing, etc.). Do not inflict physical injury on a living thing.
- be honest and decent. Do not mislead and do not deceive to obtain goods at the expense of others for clear or unclear purposes. Do not take away or steal property from a person or from the public.
- be deliberate and restrained in expression. Avoid grandiloquent, irresponsible words. Keep your promises, but the main thing is not to give promises before you yourself realize whether you can or want to keep them or not. Always try to follow your principles. Do your duty without unnecessary words.
- don't lie, except cases of extreme necessity ("white" lies).
- don't be envious. Don't wish for too much and the unrealistic for yourself and your family. Your well-being depends firstly on yourself. Try to choose areas of activity in which you could display your abilities to the utmost. Use and develop them, work honestly and tirelessly in order to achieve what you can realistically expect.
- work and serve honestly. Don't accept either presents or bribes, nothing except the proper reward.
- harmonize your emotional, psychological, intellectual, and material lives. Don’t reduce your work to just getting material benefits, but don't also withdraw into the sphere of sensual gratification or abstract reflections.
- find happiness in the development and realization of your abilities, in creative labor for the good of yourself, your family, society, your country, the world, and nature.
- don't hope for reward in an afterlife. Try to live so as to leave a good memory of yourself and the fruits of your labor which will help succeeding generations to live worthy lives.
- find courage and optimism, don’t give way to despair and despondency. Be happy with what you have, of which the main thing is your life, your near ones, love, friendship, the sun, the air, the water, the sky, the flowers, and the endless multitude of other simple and great blessings of life.
- don't lose your sense of humor.
- don't wait for awards and honors for your virtuous life. Awards might come but the opposite might happen - misfortune, misunderstanding, or ridicule. The real reward is your happiness from honestly performed duty, from a life with a clear conscience, which warms the soul and gives a feeling of happiness. The pleasures which are incompatible with conscience may outweigh for a short time the happiness you have gained from a life with a clear conscience. But in the long term life with a clear conscience brings real happiness, let it be a measured life, and not so brightly decorated with your outer appearance. Your wealth which you start with and which might preserve and enhance your life is your clear conscience.
- respect and love the worthy and good that is in the father and mother who gave you life. Care for them with love. Bear their possible weaknesses and shortcomings with patience. Your duty is not to lose a sense of gratitude toward them and always support them morally and physically.
- your regard for relatives and older people ought to be permeated with respect, concern, and attention.
- approach marriage responsibly and rationally. Remain faithful, devoted, and patient toward your spouse and responsible for his or her health and well-being.
- don't engage in casual sex. Do not be false and do not yield to easy and irresponsible seduction. Only great, real love justifies intimacy outside marriage.
- decide to divorce only in case of extreme necessity, weighing its possible consequences for yourself and your spouse, and especially for common children.
- approach the planning of your family, childbearing, responsibly. When deciding to have children remember your responsibility to them.
- approach with all seriousness the teaching and upbringing of children, their material security, nutrition, health, and safety, the creation of the best conditions for their development and education, the cultivation of their work, domestic, and ecological practices. The parents' attitude toward children should be permeated with love, concern, and respect for their rights. Instill in children responsibility and the fulfillment of their obligations.
- respect science and its achievements. Turn to it and scientists as the best community of experts to determine truth. Have a critical attitude toward statements which have not undergone scientific examination or are not scientifically founded.
- respect and value the experience of people of an older generation. Try to comprehend their life wisdom, professional, and other knowledge and skills and also knowledge about the historical conditions and circumstances to which they were witnesses and participants.
- value and preserve cultural works. Have a careful regard for historical relics whose loss is irreplaceable.
- in the name of present and future generations do everything possible to protect the environment and preserve wildlife and inanimate nature, of which you are a part.
- observe generally-accepted norms of behavior. Respect local morals, customs, and behavioral traditions which do not violate generally-accepted standards.
- remember your responsibilities to society and society's responsibilities to you.
- be modest, self-critical, and principled at the same time. Do not confuse modesty with humility or self-criticism with unhealthy reflection.
- show proper attention to your appearance: be neat and avoid seeming extravagant or provocative.
- follow current law and observe generally-accepted rules. Disagreement with some law should not be cause for illegal acts, it can only be an impetus for legitimate efforts to change it.
- Further mutual understanding and good neighborly relations between the representatives of different peoples and countries, and international cooperation in the fields of science, culture, economics, and ecology. Do not commit illegal or immoral acts against newcomers and immigrants.
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12. Yu. Panteleyev. Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities. http://www.dialogi.lv/article.php?&id=1870&la=1
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14. Declaration of the Rights and Dignity of the Individual of the X World Russian People's Council (adopted 4-6 April 2006). http://www.sedmitza.ru/index.html?did=32259
Translated by Gary Goldberg
* This article was published in the journal of Russian Humanist Society “Zdraviy Smisl” (“Common Sense”), 2008, ¹2(47), pp. 48-51