Unlike culture, which flows freely from the people, society is constructed by political, economic, religious, community and corporate leaders to fit their particular worldview. Societies, like people, hold to an agreed upon set of values and display identifiable characteristics that originate from those values. Those values may be held loosely and change over time, but generally, we all understand what it takes to fit into the society we live in. Often one set of values is proclaimed by leaders, but another one is lived. Even so, we are all aware of what is expected of us and know there are consequences for rebelling against the accepted standard.

Even though you may not have been raised in a religious household, few, if any, societies escape the influence of religion, and often it is religion that sculpts the character and values of a society.  As a result, many of us live in ‘don’t’ societies that are more concerned about keeping us from doing negative things rather than encouraging us to do positive things.  That has certainly been the case in the United States. Even though this has always been a country of many religions, it is considered a Christian nation, and in turn, a ‘don’t’ society.

A Twitter friend  recently sent out the URL for a video entitled “Ten Commandments of Native Americans.” After watching the video, we could not help but compare these commandments with the Biblical “Ten Commandments” that were drilled into us as children.  Before we share the Native American ‘do’ version, we’d like to offer our condensed version of the Bible’s ‘don’t’ commandments:

1.     1. I am the lord your God…you shall have no other gods before me

2.    2.  You shall not make any graven image…you shall not bow down and serve them

3.    3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain

4.   4.  You shall not kill

5.    5. You shall not commit adultery

6.   6.  You shall not steal

7.   7. You shall not bear false witness

8.   8.  You shall not covet…anything that is your neighbor’s

Out of the Ten Commandments, the eight ‘don’t’ commands far outweigh the small positive gains involved in the two ‘do’ commands:

9.   9.  Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy

1010.  Honor your father and your mother

Now compare these ideas with the concepts many Native Americans choose to live by:

1.      Treat the earth and all that dwells therein with respect

2.      Remain close to the Great Spirit

3.      Show great respect to your fellow beings

4.      Work together for the benefit of all mankind

5.      Give assistance and kindness wherever needed

6.      Do what you know to be right

7.      Look after the wellbeing of mind and body

8.      Dedicate a share of your efforts to the greater good

9.      Be truthful and honest at all times

10.  Take full responsibility for your actions

Why is there such a vast difference between the two sets of commands? Notice the actions words, treat, remain, show, work, give, do, look, dedicate, be, take, and see how they are all used to promote positive values. How did such a huge rift between ‘do’ and ‘don’t’ societies come about? There’s an obvious answer to this question in the words spoken by Native American leaders:

At the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and this center is everywhere, it is within each of us—Black Elk

The first peace…is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their…oneness with the universe—Black Elk

Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. We are but one thread…Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect—Chief Seattle

This we know. The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know. —Chief Seattle

The ‘don’t’ commandments are based on a dualistic thought system that imagines all material forms are separate from one another, and separate from God. They are designed to reinforce the idea that humanity is innately bad, wants to do wrong, and needs to be controlled. They’re based on the belief that the earth is here for man to use, and humans are in competition for its resources. They infer that competition will inevitably drive us to do inappropriate things. The ‘don’t’ commandments are ineffective as a deterrent because, as we all know; we often become exactly what we’re told we are.

The ‘do’ commandments are based on the oneness of everything in existence, the seen and the unseen. Not only do they recognize man as essentially good, they tell us we are also Divine. They presume that we can and will strive toward the highest good for All That Is.  

One of the ways these ‘do’ commands were demonstrated was the Potlatch, a gift-giving festival practiced by Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest. The main purpose of the yearly festival was a re-distribution of wealth. Those who had much gave to their brothers who had not fared so well during the past year. When white settlers arrived, it did not take long for the Potlatch to be outlawed. The settlers just could not abide the idea that the indigenous people had no concept of ownership and hoarding. A Christian missionary, William Duncan, wrote in 1875 that the potlatch was "by far the most formidable of all obstacles in the way of Indians becoming Christians, or even civilized." Frankly, if Duncan’s view is considered civilized, count us out!

It’s ironic to note that the Ten Commandments are only a very small part of the law given to Moses. Part of that law, outlined in the 25th chapter of Leviticus, commanded the Jews to keep a Jubilee every fifty years. The Jubilee was essentially the same re-distribution of wealth as the Potlatch. It was a time when land that had been sold was returned to the original owners and those who had been forced to sell themselves into slavery were freed. Jews were also told to give freely to the poor without charging interest and care for those unable to care for themselves. We can only ask why so many Christians have retained the ‘don’ts’ of the Ten Commandments while rejecting other, more positive, parts of the law that are equally valid.     

The ‘don’t’ commands take away our power, focus on our weakness and inevitably hold us back from acting in love. The Divine gave us all the gift of free will and the right to use it, but the ‘don’t’ commands nullify that gift and attempt to strip it from us. The ‘do’ commands remind us of our innate power and expect that we will not only behave in a loving manner towards All That Is, we will BE that love.  We may have been raised in a society of ‘don’ts’ but we can choose not to remain limited by it. The greatest gift we have been given by the Divine is free will. It allows us to choose a wider understanding than the one society foists on us before we’re old enough to discern what’s happening. Look again at the two sets of commandments. Think about the affects each can have on your life. Make the choice that’s best for you, and All That Is. 

Lee and Steven Hager are the authors of several books on gnosis, science and spirituality. Visit The Beginning of Fearlessness website and blog.