For some of us in the human realization game, the high water mark of our development is empathy. Some may fear that this is some new crackpot liberal conspiracy idea to make sure that the Taliban take over America and get rid of Dick Cheney and the Tea Partiers.

Others might claim that empathy is a value held in high regard in that old canard, our Judeo-Christian ethics. As religious philosopher Karen Armstrong tells us, it is the unifying idea in every religion. It is popularly known as the Golden Rule.

Yet though just about anyone would agree that Jesus was one compassionate dude, empathy is being looked on with suspicion by certain upstanding Americans. On June 28th, Elena Kagan was vetted by the United States Senate to determine if she was suitable to join the Supreme Court of our land. In his opening remarks at those hearings, our honorable white, male, and good Christian Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama said,

“Even today, President Obama advocates a judicial philosophy that calls on judges to base their decisions on empathy and their “broader vision of what America should be.” He suggests that his nominee shares that view. Our legal system does not allow such an approach.”

At least he tried to wrap his view in the dignity of a legal interpretation, as compared to Michael Steele, the head of the RNC, who said, “Crazy nonsense empathetic. I’ll give you empathy. Empathize right on your behind!”

The question of whether empathy has its place in our justice system is well discussed in a commentary piece by Seymour Toll for The Philadelphia Enquirer, written on the same day as Sessions spoke, “Has Everyone Stopped Caring About Empathy?”

In a fascinating irony, despite the fact that empathy and compassion are getting an X rating these days by some in the justice game, it has now become part of the parlance of war. In an article at www.foxnews.com,  General David Patraeus who just took over the command of the war in Afghanistan is quoted as saying that “ . . .we must continue to demonstrate our resolve to the enemy. We will do so through . . . our compassion for the Afghan people and through our example and the values that we live.”

We must be compassionate in order to win a war, but we must eschew it in the exercise of justice at home. Strange, that. I wonder if there is any relationship to this to be found in the fact that we rush to spend money to kill – the $636 billion dollar Defense Appropriations Bill (!) was passed easily last year in the senate by a vote of 93 – 7 in no time at all, (this year the figure is going up to $680 billion) while we suspect and demonize spending money on life, with the Health Reform Act slowly squeaking through Congress where no Republican voted for the measure in the house, and the senate approving 56 – 43. Guess who voted no? Maybe the same people who don’t like the “E” word.

Is there a place for empathy in justice? As usual, these kinds of questions send us back to Plato, and his teacher, Socrates, who were the first to try to answer these kinds of questions in a consistently logical way. The question starts with, what is justice anyway? And in the end, Socrates’s answer, like always, is, “who knows?” I can’t provide a certain answer, but I’ll go with my teacher, the Chinese philosopher Mencius, who tells us that in the Confucian view, the first quality of the true leader is empathy and compassion. This is the realization of a leader’s human capacity, and through this they will realize their purpose as leaders, which is to make the people happy. Justice, to my mind, is to find the right, and that right is the true and the good, and the true and good leads to happiness. The purpose of justice, then, is to lead to the happiness of the people, which I think Jefferson said something about in the beginning of the Declaration of Independence. And if the essence of empathy is the Golden Rule, or doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, then wanting the good of others is the essence of empathy. That sounds like justice to me. I think it was Jesus who said that he came to fulfill the law, not destroy it, and that fulfillment was love.

But I could be wrong. What do you think? What is justice and should empathy be a part of it?

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The next quality that is central to the Mencian conception of heart is ch’i. (For those of you who are just joining this conversation, Mencius was a great Chinese Sage who lived and wrote 2300 years ago. Central to his philosophy was the notion of “heart.” See other posts.) Ch’i is the prime energy of the universe. This can be correlated to “the sacred fire” of the Upanishads. The Indians, too, located this energetic source in the heart.

“I know . . . that sacred fire which leads to heaven. Listen. That fire which is the means of attaining the infinite worlds, and is also their foundation, is hidden in the sacred place of the heart.”

Buddhists located their equivalent, prana, a concept they borrowed from the Sanskrit, in the heart, and also saw the unity of heart, energy, and the cosmic reality.  Ch’i has also been named tejas, mana, or by Jung, libido.  It is found in Norse mythology as the mead from the world tree of Ygdrasil.

The Chinese posited two kinds of ch’i, the gross and the subtle. The body was the home of the grosser ch’i and the heart was the home of the subtle ch’i. To cultivate the heart means to cultivate our subtle ch’i. This would not only bear on our moral health, but our physical well being as well.  Mencius unified his concepts in a moral vision, where right living, as determined by heart, resulted in maximum ch’i. Health, wellbeing and courage were related to living in harmony with the dictates of heart, which emerged from its connection to universal nature.

Mencius believed that this general energetic principle of the universe was something that “ran through” humans.  When we achieve an optimal alignment with the Heavenly Mandate, or universal law, we have the greatest access to this primal energy of the universe. We then possess what Mencius called flood-like ch’i, which is the ultimate energetic capacity.

Mencius himself admitted that explaining flood-like ch’i was difficult. A disciple asked, “May I ask what this flood-like ch’i is?”And he replied,

“It is difficult to explain. This is a ch’i which is, in the highest degree vast and unyielding. Nourish it with integrity and place no obstacle in its path and it will fill the space between Heaven and Earth. It is a ch’i which unites rightness and the Way. Deprive it of these and it will starve. It is born of accumulated rightness and cannot be appropriated by anyone through a sporadic show of rightness. Whenever one acts in a way that falls below the standard set in one’s heart, it will starve.”

This means that our energy, mood and motivation, is dependent on our integrity, of acting from our highest moral understanding, which is in our hearts. This places us in alignment with universal forces, which gives us courage. Depression and failure can be likened to a lack of moral attunement. This does not only mean not doing the right thing toward others, but also toward the self. The condition of shame, or treating ourselves from self-hatred instead of self-love, will lead to a diminishment of ch’i.

Through the manifestation of flood-like ch’i we develop the virtue of imperturbability. This means being true to oneself even without external validation.  As Mencius stated it, “Only a gentleman can have a constant heart in spite of a lack of constant means of support.”

When we have imperturbability, our motivation for action must be on rightness, and not dependent on outcome. (more…)

The traditional Chinese character for love (愛)...
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Where does love come from?

Contemporary science tells us that love is built into us. As the great researcher, Allan Schore, proves, we enter the world pre-wired to love the first person who takes care of us. Once an infant is born it works like this. When an infant sees his mother gazing at him with love in her eyes, happy neuro-chemicals flood the infant’s brain. The child feels happy. He or she likes this feeling and wants more of it. This sets up an attachment to the source of this good feeling. Since the good feeling comes from mom, the kid starts to love mom. We are genetically set up so that when the brain gets a good dose of those happy-making chemicals, we grow neurons in our brain. These neurons form the basis of our feeling confident in the world. They enable us to create and sustain loving connections with other people.

As we grow into childhood, when we receive the proper emotional attunement from our loved ones, our brains continue to develop and we mature our natural propensity to love and be loved. It is when we get our emotional needs met that we grow the ability to love more and more people in deeper and deeper ways. John Bowlby makes a great case that this built in ability to love is evolutionarily adaptive. That is, it contributes to the survival of our species. Helpless infants and mothers need to be bonded because little babies can’t survive without that protection and care. Without love, we do not thrive. Those neurons that grow from love also contribute to the development of our ability to think, feel, create, imagine, act and care for ourselves in the best possible way. Our ability to love and connect is what is natural and adaptive. Our destructive aggressiveness happens when our natural emotional needs for a loving relationship get frustrated.

When we understand that our love is innate, we realize that children are not bad without a moral basis and need to be “trained” and restrained to be obedient. This view that children are evil and need to be broken has justified all kinds of abuse. We now know that this kind of child rearing leaves permanent scars. Instead, if our task as parents is to cultivate the love that already exists in our child by giving love, it makes our job clear.  Our children are precious with potentials that need to be nurtured, nourished and lovingly tended.

Our natural ability to love is our common human bond. Mencius, Confucius‘s disciple, said that every human heart is alike. When we realize this, this becomes our basis for living.  Since we are all alike, we must live our lives according to the golden rule, which has been understood in every culture and religion, including the philosophy of Confucius. The Chinese character for this reciprocity, that is, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, is shu, which is a combination of the characters for “heart” and “alike.” It’s common meaning is forgiveness.

Our central core of loving compassion is what Mencius called heart. This is what he believed defined what it meant to be truly human or humane. This natural empathy, or the ability to feel what others feel, is what Mencius used as the primary proof that man is essentially good. In order to be fully human, we need to cultivate and develop this heart of compassion.

If this is the case, then the best thing we can do for ourselves, the ones closest to us, and for the planet is to develop our ability to love. Certainly, as we understand the great chain of being, it is our love that helps grow love in our children. Though we understand this scientifically today, this wisdom was understood by Confucius and his follower, Mencius, 2500 years ago. Confucius’s main concern was human relationship. He understood that we were in alignment with our intrinsic purpose on this planet when we were able to have the best relationship with others.

The Confucians believed that our whole society needed to be built on this principle. Our leaders needed to run the state so that relationships would be in greatest harmony and there would be the ultimate conditions for the realization of love. This is a great model for our own leaders and one we need to encourage them to embrace.

As part of this societal imperative, learning about love needs to be central to our education. 70 years ago, Franklin Roosevelt, after seeing the catastrophe of a world war, said that schools needed to expand from the three R’s to four: reading, writing, arithmetic and relationships. He believed that the very survival of the world depended on us learning how better to love and connect through relationship and that it was the responsibility of society at large to provide this direction. In some ways we seem further from this educational goal almost a century later.

This common core of love also means that we do not need to look outside of ourselves for what we seek to become in life. Confucius also said, “the measure of man is man.” What this means is that we can all begin where we are, and by developing our best attributes, we can become wise, strong, passionate and optimally loving.

Confucius’s idea of this ideal person was captured by the Chinese character, Jen. This character is made up of the characters for “man” and “two,” signifying that the measure of an individual is his or her ability for good relationship. The ideal person is one who can connect with others, who can love.

Within each of us is such a fine person, because we can become one, given the proper cultivation. This begins with how we are raised. But once we become grown ups, we need to take over the task of cultivation. We must self-cultivate.

How do we develop our capacity for love and compassion? This is an especially important question because not one of us received the optimal nurturance growing up.

Confucius would say that this begins with tireless self-education. We must explore our great cultural heritage to understand what the pilgrims who have gone before us have learned about love and how to achieve it. We must imagine this ideal, and continue to develop this image so that we have a goal to aim for. We must immerse ourselves in the arts, because this is the food of love.

Finally, our heart of love and compassion is cultivated through our actions, what we do every day. Each day we must practice living up to our highest vision of love. We become more humane – we find our hearts – through giving. To be what we are meant to be, we need to open ourselves and passionately risk all for the sake of loving others.

Science has now joined philosophy and spirituality in understanding that love is our root, answer, and what we are made of.  Through a commitment and devotion to a lifetime of self exploration, you must travel within yourself to find the lost and hidden heart, because there you will discover that the source of love is within yourself. That’s where love comes from.

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making-of-an-elder-cultureOne of the great thrills of existence  is that there is an endless amount to learn. I recently wrote a blog post predicting that as baby boomers entered the last third of their life there would be a resurgence of the 60’s values that many held in their youth. I was excited to discover that I was not alone in this hope. Dr. Theodore Roszak, famous for his culture-defining 1968 work, The Making of a Counterculture, and as a leading proponent of ecopsychology, has written a book on this very topic called The Making of an Elder Culture , published by New Society Publishers.

It has been a joy to read this book and become familiar with the work of Dr. Rosjak (who I am embarrassed to admit I was not familiar with — there’s that joy of new discovery!). This 76-year-old maintains and embodies the spirit that he writes about. He writes with a vigor and an idealism of a person one-third his age. In his latest book Rosjak makes a compelling case that as the baby boomers live for decades past 65, they will reengage with their original, countercultural values and take a leadership role in making the world a better, fairer place.

Roszak sees the baby boom generation as the leading edge of a profound change in demographics that will dominate world culture for the foreseeable future. The combination of lowering birth rates and longevity will make the world an older, and hopefully, wiser place. The 60’s were a time when we believed that if we raised individual consciousness we could change the world. Dr. Roszak agress with the Confucian concept that we cannot “pull the shoots.” That is, we must respect nature’s rate of growth and change. There is nothing, he asserts, that has the potential to raise consciousness like aging.  When vast numbers of people live into their 90’s and beyond, their values will shape our world. We will become a world that prioritizes wellness, sustainable living, and learning. The values of consumption and growth for growth’s sake will give way to a world where mutual care will be of utmost concern. He lays down a challenge for this aging generation. He says that, “Theirs must be a noble, far-sighted cause. They must be the spearhead of a compassionate economy that spreads its benefits to everyone.” He has the audacity to propose an optimistic world vision that results in a healthy relationship with the places we live and our broader environment, and leads to a spiritual realization.

Discovering the works of Roszak has particular meaning for me because I am a proud member of the Radical Passe. The values of the counterculture have stuck with me through the decades of narcissism, greed and fear. It isn’t just the ’60’s that have had a sustained appeal for me. I’m a fan of a whole world of thought that flowered with romanticism in 19th century Europe and passed on into a coma in 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan. This was a tradition of humanism. It included the belief that the unexamined life was not worth living. It questioned the alienating values of industrial capitalism. Its religion was love. This tradition included Carl Jung, John Lennon and Ralph Waldo Emerson. It brought us the art films from Jean Renoir to Vittorio De Sica. We believed in the experiential educational principles of John Dewey and the therapy of Fritz Perls. It was based on the belief that there was something better to life than the world we inherited: that money, stuff and fitting in were not life’s ultimate goals and something “more” was worth fighting for.

Unfortunately, since this scene is mostly passed and not comprehended by most, my heroes are mostly dead. Ashley Montagu, Erich Fromm, Confucius and Tolstoy are all gone. (There are a few exceptions, including Harville Hendrix and some of my personal teachers who are not so well known). So I sometimes feel a little lonely at this end of the philosophical spectrum. This has increased my joy at discovering Roszak. Here’s a guy who is alive and whose thought and life I can admire. Here’s an invite, Theodore. How would you like to take on another piece of your “eldering” role? I’d love to add you to my mentor list.

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Alan GreenspanStatistics like 10% unemployment and reports of 50% pay cuts barely capture the pain and Menciusanxiety that so many of us are experiencing in today’s struggling economy. How can we  get through this rough period and also figure out how to succeed in such troubling times? How can we set the economic ship of the world on a course that minimizes this kind of distress in the future? In order to find the solution we need to understand how we got here and what is presently going on.

Much has been said about the technicalities of toxic assets, the lack of regulation on exotic investment instruments and other incomprehensible economic arcana. Some has been said about a culture of short-term gain and greed run amok. Even a free market devotee like Alan Greenspan has had to admit that the market did not do its magic of self-regulating to the best possible outcome.

How did this happen? How did we get to a place where very smart people acted against their own interests? Are people dumb or evil? 2300 years ago the people of China found themselves in a similar situation. The world’s greatest Sage, a man named Mencius (Men-shus), devoted his life to understanding how things could go so wrong in a society and what to do about it. Observing nature, he recognized that there were laws by which the universe operated. Following what he observed in agriculture, if you understood and followed these laws of cultivation, you could increase your yield dramatically. If you went against them, nothing would grow. He called these laws the heavenly mandate, and applied this principle to politics. If leaders followed the heavenly mandate, that is the laws of nature and human nature, people would have peace, happiness and abundance. If leaders lived against this law, there would be discord, economic distress, anxiety and depression.

If we believe what Mencius says, it means that we are in this economic pickle because those in control of the levers of the economy have been living against natural law, and against human nature. Mencius believed that just as our eyes know the beautiful, it is our heart that knows the good, and so it is the faculty of the heart that can judge whether we are living in harmony with the heavenly mandate. When we do not realize that we are living against these principles, it means that we have a lost heart. Another way of saying this is that we have lost touch with our common sense, which was also considered throughout history to reside in the heart. This is based on the humanist belief that we are not stupid or evil. Rather, we all have a basic sense of the good and the right, if we can only access it.  Our troubled bi-polar economy, manic one moment and depressed the next, is a measure of the extent to which we live in a lost-hearted culture.

How have we been living against those laws? As Mencius understood then, and as all ancient peoples understood, simply getting the greatest yield, or amassing the greatest amount of wealth, does not mean that you are following the laws of cultivation. These laws have an ecology, an interdependence between all things that require balance and harmony and a consideration of the long view above all else. Nature tells us that rather than an economy that is geared to making the most money for the smallest number, it needs to provide the maximum well being for the greatest numbers on a sustainable basis.

In order to achieve the kind of harmony that will lead to this favorable outcome, we must understand all the aspects of our being, not simply the material ones. This emphasis on the concrete and away from understanding in depth has obvious consequences. We see evidence of our imbalance all around. The sharp contrast between the financial CEO who makes hundreds of millions and the plight of the average unemployed worker is only one aspect of this. We have seen in our culture a progression towards the greatest value being put on the work place. If young professionals do not spend 12 or 14 hours in the office, they fear that they will not advance. Others are made to spend 60% of their time on the road. As a result, people do not have time to develop relationships or spend time with their families. This can have terrible consequences, as research indicates that at least for the first three years of life a child needs the active care of their mother for their optimal development. If mom is a young lawyer and spends 60 hours a week in the office, her children are not getting what they need. This culture-wide dehumanization and workaholism is a major contributor to problems like addiction and depression. By living in a world where all of our hours are spent at the work place, we have lost our moral footing, or sense of what is of essential value.

What did Mencius propose to cure this problem? He said that in order to find the central harmony, or to live according to the good sense within us which is the inward manifestation of the universal law, we need to find our lost heart. In order to find the heart, we need to live lives of self-cultivation. In the same way that our plants need the proper sunlight, soil and water to grow, we need to give ourselves what we need to grow a truly abundant, sustainable, socially responsible and meaning-filled economy. That means that we have to put the full force of our intellectual, emotional and moral force into developing ourselves. We need to live from a place of devotion to our own growth and the well being of the world. We need to work very hard, but only toward the end of true meaning and purpose.

We do this, first and foremost by making a commitment to our own development, and doing something toward this every day. This is especially important for those at the top, who have a broader impact on our financial wellbeing, but is important for all of us, whether we are some small part of this machine that regulates our capital, or we are simply running the family economy. This cultivation is an act of what the Germans would call “Bildung.”  Bildung means growth through an immersion in culture. We must devote ourselves to learning the inherited wisdom of all time, so that we can learn the eternal principles. We need to explore literature, art and music as much as we learn about economics and business. We need to balance our concrete ways of thinking by enriching our imaginations by spending time in  the world of symbol through myths and tales. We all must learn how to best take care of our bodies, other people and our world.

We need to learn about ourselves. Without a penetrating understanding of human nature,  which begins  with a process of self-exploration, as Alan Greenspan was to learn all too late in life, we can make gross errors of judgment about how people will act and behave.  We need, perhaps most of all, to learn how to have intimate relationships. The only way to grow is to truly open ourselves to other human beings.

This path of self-cultivation which has been known for centuries, is especially necessary for the world today. Everything in our world of work is changing. The world where people found security by working for one corporation for a lifetime is gone. Technology is changing so rapidly that by the time a new business model comes online it is already obsolete.   Those people who will be lifelong learners and are most comfortable with change are the ones who are going to find success in this new world. The only security we are going to create is the control we take of our own work lives. We will be able to do this through continuously developing our intellectual and skill capital. Those of us who depend on old models will find themselves left behind. The people with the greatest imaginations, those who can envision the possibilities available in this new world, will be the ones who blaze trails and come out on top.

Much of what prevents people from being able to change in these ways are old emotional injuries, starting at the earliest phase of life. We now have evidence that our earliest interactions have a profound influence on our capacity for learning, personal growth, change, imagination and the emotional self-regulation necessary to thrive in a world of continuous new demands. The only way to free our natural abilities for adaptation is to work on healing those wounds thorugh a process of self-discovery. In order for our children to thrive in this new world they are going to need optimal upbringing because the most rounded, emotionally healthy and creative people are the ones who are going to have the skills needed in this new world. In order to give our children this kind of upbringing, we need to heal ourselves. We need to widely disseminate the knowledge and skills for self-healing so the greatest number of people can benefit from this understanding.

What will our culture look like if we develop ourselves in a way that brings us into greater harmony with the heavenly mandate? Actually, our technology can be a help in this regard. One great secret of this world where we are married to our work is that most people spend all too many hours in the workplace, but they spend very few of those hours actually being productive. For many, more hours are spent on Facebook than doing work. People hate being trapped in their offices, resenting time away from the rest of their lives, and act out by screwing around. We now have the technology so most people can do a great deal of their work from home. We need to re-vision work. People can work  from home, creating their own flexible hours so they can have time to drop off the kids at school, help them with homework, and tuck them in at night. People will be more productive because they will be happier and their spouses and children will be happier, too. This can also be a significant aid in shrinking our carbon footprint and reducing global warming. How much fossil fuels will we save if every single person who commuted to work eliminated one or two days of driving their car?

As a society, we show what we value by how much we are willing to pay for it. Another change that we will see if we cultivate ourselves is that we will give less value to the work of Wall Street. For our culture to be the richest it can be, more than financiers and lawyers, we are going to need transformation leaders, teachers, therapists, coaches and health counselors. These are the people who are going to give us the tools necessary to be life-long growers. We will put more of our resources into these areas because we will see that social value is economic value. People on Wall Street and in law offices will be paid less, and change agents will be paid more.

These difficult times are the result of great changes in our society. If we are able to recognize our mistakes and correct them, and see the great potential in this time of transformation, there is great promise ahead for better lives for all of us. It is going to take courage, optimism, faith, perseverance and tremendous effort to come through this transition. These are the qualities that reside in the heart. The good news is that we all share those common attributes. All we need to do is find our hearts through a process of self-cultivation and we will have everything we need to not only find personal success and well-being, but to make the world a better place as well.

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Obama Nazi communistObama claims to want to help Americans by improving health care. He states that he wants to create a system where health care would be available to the 50 million people in this country who don’t have it, and reduce costs for the rest of us. He says that he wants to insure the long term viability of Medicare and Medicaid. He wants to provide more preventative care so that we live healthier, longer lives, reducing the need to manage debilitating diseases like diabetes. He makes the case that all of this would improve our long-term economic outlook. Now what could be wrong with all of that? Well, then, why has he provoked such anger with this plan?

I believe the most significant reason is a strange phenomenon that I have recognized through doing couple’s counseling, which I call “couple trap number two.” Here is how it works. One of the partners has a long standing need that has gone unmet. Let’s say the wife wants her husband to say “I love you.” For years, she has railed in pain and frustration about how he never says those words. Utilizing my techniques, the husband finally softens, and says the magic words, “I love you.” Now we would expect that the wife, having finally gotten what she wanted, would be grateful, thrilled, excited. Oh, no. As soon as he speaks, I start counting backwards from 10. By the time I get to 7, almost without fail, the wife gets furious. She says, “You didn’t say it the right way! You didn’t mean it! You’ll never say it again!” and the like. The husband gets angry and says, “You think I’ll ever say that again? You’ve got another thing coming!” It is as if I tipped a see-saw out of balance, and within a few seconds everything goes right back to where it had begun. The status quo is reestablished. The wife returns to complaining, the husband to withholding. Why do people get mad when they finally get what they want?

When we are emotionally hurt enough times, we not only learn that we shouldn’t trust the world, but we also come to believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with ourselves. The feeling that goes along with this belief is shame. This feeling and belief may be so pervasive that we are barely aware of it.

Let’s say we are a child and have an alcoholic father who treats us cruelly when he gets drunk. We know we can’t fight him, and so we simply hide the terrible humiliation we feel. This humiliation festers within us. This results in us feeling like there must be something wrong with us. That is why Dad treats us so bad.

Finally, after 8 years, mom gets rid of this guy and marries someone who is sober and really nice. This new guy wants to do good things for us. He makes big promises. The promise of getting what we want brings up not having had our needs met in the past. All the buried anger that we have kept inside comes bubbling up to the surface. We feel the kindling of hope within that we are finally going to be treated well and get what we need. This hope brings up fear. If we allow ourselves to want, we risk being disappointed again. We must reject this hope and tell ourselves it is all a lie. It will never come true! Our dad always made promises he never kept. Why would it be different now? We get angry at ourselves for being such a fool.  Since we have become convinced that we are bad, we know that we don’t deserve good treatment anyway. When someone offers us something positive, we can’t take it in, because it doesn’t conform to our negative view of ourselves. Why would Obama really want to do anything good for me? It’s all a sham! Irrespective of the treatment we may have received from our cruel father, we are also loyal to him. To accept this new, loving treatment is also to betray our rotten father. Out of loyalty, we would rather suffer than change.

So, when we are presented with a man who is offering us a positive change that will improve our lives, instead of responding with joy, many of us respond with fear and anger. Underneath that fear and anger is shame. This means that all too many of us have been continuously hurt and disappointed both in our personal lives and in our political lives. Seeing the possibility of good makes us feel things we would rather bury: our humiliations, our hurt, and our disappointment. Rather than feel those things we reject in anger. Since on a deep level all too many of us loath ourselves, we would rather destroy ourselves with obesity than accept the help that Obama’s new plan would provide. We find all the good reasons in the world why it just won’t work. When we have been so badly hurt in the past, our reaction to something good is to reject it. When people get angry at Obama, it is like the old story of the tiger who has been beaten in the circus. When the poor animal was finally offered food and kindness he attacked the giver.

If we want to gain people’s trust when they have been so wounded and feel so badly about themselves, like the tiger, we must approach them very gingerly. Until they can heal their shame their likely reaction will be to snap.

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less-is-moreTim Kasser, PhD, a professor of psychology, and Kirk Warren Brown, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology recently completed a research study that validates my theory that fufillment comes from living the life of the heart. Their results are reported in one of the essays in a wonderful new book published by New Society Publishers called Less is More, edited by Cecile Andrews and Wanda Urbanska. In their article, “A Scientific Approach to Voluntary Simplicity,” they say, “A primary, take-home message of the findings of this study is that living more happily. . .is (depndendent on) whether (people) are living in a conscious, mindful way and with a set of values organized around intrinsic fulfillment,” which they define as “. . .personal development, relationships and community,” rather than the materialistic values of consumer culture.

This is only one of the nuggets of gold found in this collection of essays about Simplicity, a way of living that is gaining increasing popularity as we experience the consequences of living an ever busier, more acquisitive and more self-focussed life. We find that despite our material well-being we are less happy, more stressed, less connected to others and our most important relationships harder to maintain. On a broader level we find ourselves in economic disarray, our health worsening and the health of our planet in crisis. Simplicity, which is part of a broader movement that includes the slow food and slow living movement, promotes a life that brings us closer to the heart. As Cecile Andrews says in the introduction, what all of the definitions of Simplicity have in common is “a sense of clearing away the extraneous, stripping away the inessential. It’s about what’s real, what’s important or, again, as Thoreau put it, ‘life near the bone where it is sweetest.’ ” This corresponds to my definition of heart, which is living in harmony with our essential nature.

I’m embarrassed to say that one of the joys of this book is to get introduced to the big thinkers and transformational leaders in this movement, of whom I have been previously unfamiliar. These include such luminaries as Bill McKibben, Sarah Susanka, Jerome Segal, Dave Wann and several others too numerous to name but equally as impressive, including the editors.  Their writing matchest their philosophy: it is simple without being simplistic. It is essential, meaningful, enlightening and heartfelt.

Another delight in reading Less is More is to discover the works of New Society Publishers, a small press that comes out of Gabriola Island in British Columbia, Canada. Their mission is to publish books that promote sustainable living, a just society and a healthy planet. They, too, walk their talk. Their books are simply attractive while their company operates with a carbon-neutral footprint.

I am both educated and inspired by the writings in Less is More. Living simply, like finding the heart, is the work of a lifetime. It is not easy to get there, but it provides a life of ease once the goal is reached. This book is a wonderful contribution to reorienting our lives away from the alienating influences of our shame-inducing consumer culture back toward what is really important: the choice to care for ourselves, others and the planet in a simple, loving way.

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