Philosophy Friday: We’re All In This Together
As soon as James Stockdale got shot down in his Skyhawk over Vietnam, he knew that as an American, he would experience harsh treatment from the North Vietnamese. For the next seven years, Stockdale was confined at the Hanoi Hilton prison, made infamous for interrogating and torturing American POWs.
Stockdale quickly realised that the brutality of daily life at the prison was about to break the Americans. Unless they could support each other and keep up their spirits, they would first lose hope and then the will to live.
Stockdale was the highest-ranking among the Americans, and if it was up to anyone, it was up to him to provide leadership. He designed a code of conduct for his men and an ingenious secret communications protocol to resist their captors. Both were crucial factors in maintaining morale and unit cohesion. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Stockdale saved many lives at the Hanoi Hilton.
Hopefully, we will never face the extreme conditions James Stockdale did. Still, life is going to be challenging at times. There are always new problems to confront and solve. It’s crucial to accept this as a universal truth. No, you don’t get a break. No-one does.
But we don’t have to go out of our way and make each other’s lives miserable. We could realise that we are all in this together. Humans are social animals who need each other. Why be troublesome to one another when we travel on the same path towards the same end?
“Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him; for he and I were born to work together, like a man’s two hands, feet or eyelids, or the upper and lower rows of his teeth. To obstruct each other is against Nature’s law – and what is irritation or aversion but a form of obstruction.”
– Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor & Philosopher
We don’t know what people will do, but we can do our bit. After all, one cannot control others, only oneself. Individually we can play our part—and play it well. We can pay our taxes. We can choose to return the overpayment. We can decide to play fair. We can choose to put in the work—to do our bit.
“But everyone else is doing it!” Sure, but when we do it—does it feel great? Probably not. Even if we don’t get found out—we still know we did wrong.
Let the cheaters cheat—that’s their job. That doesn’t need to be us. Let us play fair and for the common good. At first, this is the harder, steeper path. But it gets easier the longer we stick to it. On the other hand, the road that seemed smoother at the beginning becomes increasingly more difficult the further we travel on it.
So, let’s remember that we are all in this together here on spaceship Earth.