THEOSOPHY, Vol. 42, No. 2, December, 1953
(Pages 59-63; Size: 15K)


[Part 5 of a 29-part series]

THERE seems no end to the exploration of words whose essential original meanings have been corrupted through usage -- and particularly by authoritarianism of one sort or another. Words tend towards rigidity, it seems, and become excuses for coercion, whenever a culture disbelieves in the progressive evolution of the human soul and that such evolution can be furthered only by "self-induced and self-devised efforts." When rules and restrictions replace the counsels of individual conscience, the vision of the soul is lost.

According to its original meaning, the word arbitration contains a wealth of theosophical significance. For an arbiter was not at first considered to be one who pronounced final judgment. He was, instead, "the one who goes out to see what he can do" in effecting a better adjustment and understanding between disputants. He sought the "adjustment" of human affairs; he was an educator rather than judge -- the only valid theosophical approach, for, as H. P. Blavatsky once wrote in the Theosophist, "even the Mahatmas are the servants, not the arbiters, of Karma."

In all present instances wherein something called a "Board of Arbitration" forces a decision upon participants, the prerogatives of Karma have been usurped and the original meaning of arbiter corrupted. Webster's Unabridged Dictionary reveals that the whole point of distinguishing between arbitration procedure and judicial procedure is that "arbitration is entirely voluntary and a submission to arbitration is revocable by either party." Thus, a desire to substitute arbitration for an enforceable judgment is an attempt to preserve inviolate the conscience of the individual. The aim is primarily to seek further enlightenment on a dispute through exchange of opinions. One who proposes or accepts an offer of arbitration need not thereby agree, then, even to abide by the decision of the majority of an arbitration board. His agreement obliges him only to take part in discussion, and to listen to what others have to say. Finally, then, arbitration is ideally designed to be an educative process in which the parties concerned do not seek an enforceable "ruling."

The values of the arbitration-process seem theosophically obvious, if arbitration be recognized as an alternative to the physical or psychological violence potential in most disputes. Fair arbitration also tends to depersonalize grievances by extending the psychological situation to include the arbiter or arbitrators. Further, the first condition of arbitration requires that disputed matters be brought up openly in the presence of the disputing parties, thus leaving less excuse for behind-the-back spreading of grievances to other un-involved persons. The most important benefits of arbitration are clearly derived from whatever new perspectives may be developed by participants during deliberation.

In a further attempt to analyze "arbitration," we may consider the process in terms of three phases or stages. Though these three stages are often loosely combined and confused, it seems profitable to separate the three for purposes of discussion, just as one must undertake them separately in arbitration procedure. Three stages of the arbitration process may be set down as follows:

1. Establishment of facts -- mutual admission of central, salient facts.

2. Deliberation concerning the facts established. (This part of the process should rightly include deliberation in respect to attitudes held by disputants, after recognition that no "fact" of itself a priori justifies an attitude. During this stage no decision need be reached, for what is sought is a clarification of issues, and a clarification of the nature of the relationships involved. The tools used in this phase of deliberation are reason and logic. A decision can be reached at this stage only by mutual assent, but since this is the most desirable end to be sought, concentration upon this phase would seem to be of the greatest psychological and philosophical importance.)

3. Decision, or the final or technically definitive phase of arbitration, according to most modern usage. Decision involves assessing moral responsibility or liability. Our Western culture, it seems, seldom fits anyone well for this part of an arbiter's role. Court decisions, for instance, are at best approximations of solutions of difficulties. The Guru, the spiritual and moral teacher of ancient tradition, is a better example of one having the "right" to assign moral responsibility in the case of a pupil, but this right was given by the pupil himself upon his request to become a pupil, and rested upon the belief on the part of the disciple that the Sage knew phases of the disciple's nature better than the disciple himself. Save in the case of such a unique relationship, it seems necessary to recognize that all final decisions of importance must be reached by the disputants themselves.

Special attention naturally focusses on the deliberative phase, as in the case of arbitration courts dealing with domestic relations. Here an advisory board strives to illuminate the minds and attitudes of the participants, rather than to gain a quick "decision." Interestingly enough, it is also possible for a party or parties to assist in philosophical deliberation without a minute study of specific facts and alleged facts, since many of these "facts" involve past situations so emotionally charged as to prejudice objective thinking on the part of the disputants. What is needed is a search for the reasons precluding disputants from viewing the same "facts" in the same light. This part of the arbitration process may be called "counselling"; counselling is an essential part of the total arbitration process whenever both disputants are present.

Whenever arbitration is designed to result in an enforceable decision, even today, it is interesting to note, special statutes of law have to be enacted, it being recognized that such a process is a special case or partial derivative of arbitration in its original meaning. Thus we see a transition stage between the first meaning of arbitration -- meaning the opposite of arbitrary -- and the common acceptation of the latter word. For to be "arbitrary" is to be authoritarian, to compel acceptance of a decision made. "Arbitrary" itself originally meant something "determinable by decision of a judge or tribunal rather than defined by statute or discretion," thus leaving room for recognition of the fact that every dispute is a special case and need not have predetermined penalties for a "loser." The second meaning of arbitrary -- derived again from distortion of the original meaning by prevalent belief in the moral validity of coercion -- suggests that an arbitrary decision is one which may be "arrived at by caprice." By this time the usage of arbitrary has come full circle, just as occurs when a body calling itself a "Board of Arbitration" is provided with statutes making its decisions enforceable. "Authoritarian" means the "advocacy of the principle of obedience to authority as opposed to any individual liberty," and is the direct antithesis of the principles of arbitration.

When it is remarked by theosophical students in the promulgation of theosophical principles that man is the "arbiter of his own destiny," this implies that he and he alone can adjust the intricacies of his own karma. In other words, the stress is not upon "judgment," even of oneself, but upon a constructive working with the potentialities of growth hidden behind confusion and conflict of purposes. The result of pure arbitration is never anything more definitive than a promise (from compromise), a declaration of intent to abide by an agreement for arbitration. But the "compromise," if it offend a basic principle in the mind of one of the disputants, is not binding.

It is difficult to imagine what a different psychological world this would be if arbitration, in the sense discussed here, were to replace enforceable judicial rulings, but it is quite apparent that the change, to whatever degree effected, would be for the betterment of man. The arbiter, and also those who invite his services, is one who "goes to seek" an improvement of situation. This suggests an outgoing of human sympathy and understanding, and an outgoing of mind in the hope of discovering alternatives not yet perceived. On the other hand, one who seeks redress in a court of law, or who endeavors to make "arbitration" enforceable, and failure to abide by the terms of arbitration punishable, are retracting their minds from the prospect of voluntary "compromise." So it is, again, that we find legal procedure faithfully reflecting the failings of human relationships which, all too often, involve the manipulation of a coercive agency.

Arbitration discussion undertaken in the hope of clarifying issues between disputants could be of great theosophic value, we may repeat, but never if a "Board of Arbitration" is given power to compel acceptance of decisions reached. Nor, in the last analysis, is a "decision" even necessary in order to fulfill the chief value inherent in arbitration procedure. One submitting to arbitration simply "puts himself to the risk of being lessened," by having his views subjected to the scrutiny of others. His "risk" is only that, in order to promote or retain good will, he may desire to revise opinions formerly inflexible.

Obviously, no one is well qualified for participation in arbitration unless he conducts his ordinary affairs in a conciliatory spirit, and especially unless he is free of tendencies to make categorical, inflexible judgments. Those who need the benefits of arbitration the most are thus, unfortunately, the least likely to seek it in a manner capable of bringing about beneficial results. The man who wishes to obtain "judgment," whether by judicial means or by enforceable arbitrary provisions, is an impatient man, and the worthy arbitrator must be a man of infinite patience. The desire for a rapid solution to a dispute is, in the last analysis, a lack of trust in the power of reason.

Anyone can institute the most beneficial aspects of arbitration proceedings in his relationships with his acquaintances. The highest manifestation of the "judicial" quality is impartial thinking and speaking -- a habit which can serve as a good preventative against the arising of disputes in the first place. The man who grasps the essential original meaning of the term arbitration, incidentally, is one who seldom needs a formal grouping of acquaintances to help him discover educative means for resolving disputes or differences of opinion. If the primary aim is educative, if two disputants care less about winning the "award" of an arbiter's approval than they care about learning the most that may be learned in the process of discussion, graciousness prevails and mutual understanding becomes possible.

COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:


Man must accept the responsibility for himself and the fact that only by using his own powers can he give meaning to his life. But meaning does not imply certainty; indeed, the quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.

The disharmony of man's existence generates needs which far transcend those of his animal origin. These needs result in an imperative drive to restore a unity and equilibrium between himself and the rest of nature. He makes the attempt to restore this unity and equilibrium in the first place in thought, by constructing an all-inclusive mental picture of the world, which serves as a frame of reference from which he can derive an answer to the question of where he stands and what he ought to do. But such thought-systems are not sufficient. If man were only a disembodied intellect his aim would be achieved by a comprehensive thought-system. But since he is an entity endowed with a body as well as a mind he has to react to the dichotomy of his existence not only in thinking but also in the process of living, in his feelings and actions. He has to strive for the experience of unity and oneness in all spheres of his being in order to find a new equilibrium. 


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