This second book in a three-part series sets forth the premise that human beings are naturally social and cooperative, and that they can take practical steps each day to ground their thoughts, feelings and actions in an ethic that promotes well-being for all.
In a world seemingly overrun with violence and based on a Darwinian principle of survival of the fittest, how can one possibly operate from a standpoint of not only causing no harm but of actively encouraging beneficial outcomes for others? Riddle never claims it will be easy. She acknowledges that we live in a universe that “encourages us to focus on self-interest and to live from a fear-based myth of scarcity” that makes it difficult to even imagine a world where causing harm is no longer the norm. But as much as the author is an idealist dedicated to the betterment of humankind, she is equally pragmatic and dedicates most of her book to offering numerous exercises and daily practices that people can follow as they seek to consistently develop a habit of harmlessness. The one downside to Riddle’s work appears in “Part Two, Immersion in Harmlessness—The Butterfly Shift,” where Riddle’s fondness for minutia becomes overwhelming. Her step-by-step instructions take up a third of the book and seem excessively scripted. It seems unlikely that, in our daily interactions with others, we can realistically be expected to assess the difference between a compassionate shift, a grateful shift or a joyous shift while we simultaneously choose the best recipient of our attention, leverage our emotions and review our action options, all with an aim of creating an optimal mini-immersion experience in harmlessness. Riddle is at her most accessible when she reveals how fully awash we are in a culture that values the individual over the group to the point where we have come to conceive of human development as a solitary experience rather than a lifetime of interactions with others.
Written in unfailingly clear and concise prose, this challenge to basic assumptions about human nature points the way toward a kinder, gentler world.