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  • Writer's pictureH. Paul Putman III, MD

The Survival Pledge: Creating a Web of Peace and Freedom

Peace is a journey of a thousand miles and it must be taken one step at a time.”

Lyndon B. Johnson[1]

This post bookends our discussion of what I have offered as The Survival Pledge: an eight-point plan to refocus each of us on taking responsibility for our own thoughts and behaviors in ways that benefit ourselves and each other:

1. I exist. In all probability, at some point, I will cease to exist.

2. There is no universally agreed upon meaning to my existence. If there is a meaning, I cannot be certain of what it is. I will take full responsibility for the consequences of choosing to assign a meaning to my own existence. I will never assign nor compel others to assign a meaning to their own existence.

3. As I do not wish to be harmed in any way by others, I will support the general idea of not harming others in any way, in the hope that my own risk will be lessened.

4. If I wish to continue to exist as long as possible, I will help others to exist as long as possible in the hope that my own existence might also be prolonged.

5. I will take full responsibility for any actions I take that threaten to shorten my existence or lead to my unhappiness.

6. I will not confuse “rights” or legislated privileges with wishes and desires that may well impinge upon another person’s freedom.

7. I will allow myself hope but not confuse this with faith.

8. I will become as comfortable as possible with uncertainty.

These steps have been explored in the preceding eleven posts. We have seen how avoidance of the awareness of our mortality can be one contribution to discord among people, and how meaning has evolved as a survival adaptation, though sometimes also with negative consequences for human interaction. Remember that small behavioral decisions at work, school, home, and in the neighborhood build into the creation of a safe and free society or, alternatively, create evil, best averted by avoiding its creation. The genesis of peace begins with personal responsibility.

Peace also does not come from compelling everyone to believe the same thing; we must seek to cooperate, rather than convert. If we can share and treat others as we want to be treated ourselves, then conversion is not even necessary and can cease to be a ready vehicle for evil. Peaceful cooperation is one adaptive survival mechanism for humans that may become a custom in a society.[2] It is not destined, however, and can only be achieved with most people deciding to behave nonviolently. Our behavior is so much about ourselves that projecting the cause to others is so often inaccurate and misleading - nonproductive for society and also for the individual. We can support our populations and our own existence by nurturing society, including helping it wisely husband its resources and reduce interpersonal conflict.

Let us not confuse rights with wishes and desires – rather, carefully evaluate them. Understand that the claim of a “natural right” may be a tool for obtaining a freedom within our government and among our fellow human beings. Listen to and respect others undertaking such actions, as we may someday require a similar process for ourselves.

Recall that hope is an attitude, while faith is expectation. When we confuse hope with faith and then demand and assert the latter’s authority over all other beliefs, faiths or ideologies, we resist opportunities for self-actualization, learning, growth and peace. And, once the reality of uncertainty becomes comfortable, important energy can be redirected to areas of certainty and risk where important and informed decisions will be made and the energy that once was spent fearing or fighting uncertainty will not be wasted or turn destructive.

These survival steps create a web of freedom in interaction that can benefit every member of every society. The goal is to bring more people into the web, making it safer for everyone, enhancing the chances of survival of an individual and their society. The power and control in survival lies with the individual through attitudes and thoughts and, ultimately, behaviors. By taking that responsibility, we leave others alone to do the same; who, through comparable attitudes, thoughts and behaviors, similarly leave us in peace.

“Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.” —John F. Kennedy[3]

[1] Lyndon B. Johnson, Address to the United Nations General Assembly, delivered 17 December, 1963, New York, NY, Presidential Speeches, Miller Center, University of Virginia,, (accessed December 4, 2021). [2] Brian Skyrms, Evolution of the Social Contract (New York: Cambridge UP, 1996). [3] John F. Kennedy, Final Address to the United Nations General Assembly, delivered 20 September 1963, New York, NY, American Rhetoric: Online Speech Bank, December 4, 2021).

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