As Moses is coming down the mountain fumbling three stone tablets, he says, “The lord Jehovah has given unto you these 15 … (one tablet drops and shatters) Oy. Ten! Ten commandments for all to obey!”
Why are there Ten Commandments anyhow? Why not four or 13? The answer is as easy as counting the fingers on your hands!
At any rate, scholars say the Ten Commandments were written 2,700 to 3,800 years ago. Since I am a proponent of staying up with the times, I thought: It’s time for a new Ten Commandments!
This thought and the following occurred to me. It wasn’t anybody appearing to me and telling me them, just thoughts appearing — gifts, as all thoughts are.
And these are not actually commandments. A commandment is something somebody commands you or tells you to do — action you must take or not take.
However, first I need to interject that there seems to be an inverse ratio between those who voice strong support for the Ten Commandments, and those who can actually recite them!
So, here are the best commandments I can come up with for now:
- If you claim that something is true, you have to back it up with facts that others can see for themselves.
- Have integrity about what you say. That is, be clear within yourself about whether what you’re saying is a) fact, b) something you made up or c) something somebody else made up. Everything we say can be only one of these three things.
- If you can’t back something up with facts, it is called a belief. If you repeat something somebody else said, that is a belief, too. Acknowledge that your beliefs are beliefs.
- A story can be made up of all facts, some facts and some beliefs, or all beliefs. Everything we speak is a story we are inventing.
- With beliefs, it is important to ask: Why is it important for me to believe this?Answering this question for ourselves also gives us the right to ask the same question of others.
- Saying why it is important to me means that it supports something I think is good, is of value to me. Going deeper, we can question that value as well: Why is this value important to me? And so on. You get to a point at which you can’t go back any further, other than saying, “it just is a value to me!” Then you have come to one of your principles.
- The first and great principle, for me, is: have integrity. The first six ideas above build up to this point. You have integrity when you say: “This is what seems true to me, right to me, good to me. It is the best way to think — and act. I’m open to change my view if I see a greater reason to, just as I choose to claim this principle right now.” Integrity is when you are as honest with yourself — and, of course, others — as you can be. It is taking responsibility for what we say — and living it. I call this the republican part of our humanness: individual autonomy and responsibility.
- The second great principle is: Be kind. Kindness is stronger than “being nice” to others. It is even stronger than “loving” one another. “Love” can have many meanings. Kindness is simpler: “Kind” means treating people as if they are “kin,” kinfolk, related to us — sisters, brothers, relatives — because they are. One way of defining kindness is: I create a world that works for everyone. This is the democratic part of our humanness: kindness.
- Maybe kindness should be the first principle, but it doesn’t matter. It includes being kind to myself. It would be unkind to be kind to everybody else, but not to myself. Maybe that’s why integrity comes first: It requires me to be responsible to myself.
- Here is the stream-lining part I promised in the title: To summarize these commandments in four words: Have integrity; be kind.
- These are not new ideas. I summarized them in a poem, in words quoting two famous people:
“This above all: to thine own self be true.”
“Love one another, as I have loved you.”