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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 04-May-14

 


Sunday 04-May-14

Managing boundaries and drawing the line

What kind of society do you live in? Is it one where the law is harsh? How about support for at the lower end of society? And come to that, how big are the differences between social groups? It all depends on where you draw lines that divide people, and how you decide which side of the line people must be. In laws, for example, we have rules which require conformance, but how these are enforced defines the society as much as the laws themselves.

If a person steals, what should be done? Do you chop off their hand? Do you imprison them? Do you seek to understand them and address root social issues? This is about where you draw the line. Even more problematic is where they deny guilt and you have only limited evidence. This is about how you draw the line. Do you give them the benefit of the doubt or assume they are deceptive? Your choice is ultumately about the proportion of guilty people who get off versus the number of innocent people who get punished. When we focus more on ensuring the guilty are punished, then we necessarily punish more innocent people too, although proponents of harsh systems try to ignore such injustices. Similarly, those who consider punishment of the innocent a greater sin than punishing the guilty will end up with a more lenient system, even as they sigh about the guilty who may escape punishment.

The same question may be applied in many other circumstances, for example when deciding who gets social benefits or not. It also applies in companies where people do not do what is expected of them. It even applies in families, when a parent thinks a child may have done something wrong, but the child denies it.

Much of all this depends on our views of other people, how obedient and how self-serving they are. In practice, some people try to obediently follow every rule, including social norms and national laws, while others say 'it depends' and may struggle internally with the tension between compliance and common sense. People also vary in their consideration of others as opposed to consideration of themselves, perhaps even to the point of harming others to serve their own goals. Where we draw the line and how we police it depends on our beliefs in these areas about people in general as well as individuals under scrutiny.

If you want to change society, you probably want to change these lines. And to do this, you must change how charitably people think about other people.


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