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Shah On Worrying

January 15, 2013

Excerpted from The Commanding Self, by Idries Shah:

Problems of The World

Q: Our society is in a ferment, and people say quite openly that this is a sick civilization.  I am aware of the injustices which surround us, and also of the material threats which could at any moment destroy us.  There are whole communities at each others’ throats and evils which we thought we had put down are rising in stronger forms.  While I am prepared to do my bit, and while I do support good causes and as far as possible, the weak against the strong if the weak are right, I want to know how we are going to be able to survive at all, if indeed we are going to survive.  One of the things which worries me most is that fair-minded people make such blunders when they try to act for the best, or from objective moral principles.

A: If there is no knowledge, only information, people will act in accordance with that range of information available to them – at the best.  At the worst, and more frequently, they will act in accordance with impulse or emotion linked with intellect and set off by what you call objective moral principles.  Objective moral principle, of course, is a phrase which seems to mean something but in fact does not mean more than chosen assumptions.

If you look at the people deeply concerned about right and the right thing to do, you will note that their dominating characteristics are that they are worriers.  They worry about nuclear bombs, about injustices, and so on.  They make decisions as a result of worrying.  Naturally you get a lop-sided result.

They have no real feel of what is to happen as a result of certain actions, so they act on the spur of the moment.  Naturally the consequences of their actions produce further worry-causing developments.  They do not stop to think that recognition of an evil is one thing; worrying oneself to a point of action about it is another.  People worry about poverty.  They banish poverty, and the crime rate climbs.  So they worry about the crime rate again, worry because they were wrong.

They do not say ‘There may be something wrong with the very way in which we look at things, which causes us continually to make these terrible mistakes’.  Such people are those who learn nothing and forget nothing.  Until they seek in the right way for the right understanding of their situation they will continue along the same inevitable path.

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