inclusivity

Moving from Empathy to Altruistic Action

You know when you are thinking about something, then you seem surrounded by that idea. It appears everywhere. That's what is happening with me and the concept of altruism. It is emerging, at least in my worldview, as a trending solution for what ails us. I mean everything that ails us. I know, hang onto your hats and let me finish! :) We all know that in our hearts that caring for one another, unconditionally, is not only right but essential if we are to thrive. We all want to foster a sense of community with others. As Jeremy Rifkin says, a meaningful life comes from belonging not belongings!

No one we know is not empathetic or not compassionate--at least that is what we tell each other!

I had the extraordinary opportunity to meet and interview Matthieu Ricard, the respected scientist and Buddhist monk. His latest book Altruism, asserts that social change needs to start with each one of us. That if we each invoke the power of love and genuine care for one another we will change ourselves and the world around us. 

    To do this, we must cultivate altruism on an individual level, for that is where everything begins. Altruism shows us what is good to do, but also how one should be, and what qualities and virtues one should cultivate. Starting with a kindly motivation, altruism should be integrated into our everyday lives, and should reflect the unique quality of every being and every situation. We should promote altruism on the level of society through education, through institutions that respect the rights of every individual, and through political and economic systems that allow everyone to flourish without sacrificing the good of future generations.

Altruism is not just being good and doing nice things from time to time. It is a state of mind that grows and develops and is only strong when our self-centered individuality is secondary. You cannot be truly altruisitic if you are thinking about WIIFM (What’s in it for me)

Prior to meeting Ricard I confused the concepts of empathy, compassion and altruism. Ricard set me straight. While we need all of these perspectives and insights, we really need to adopt an altruistic lifestyle. An action oriented lifestyle of helping others without expectation.

Empathy is an act of humanity where we connect and relate with another. Empathy can lead to compassion and altruism but it can easily lead to distress, burnout and avoidance of action. Empathetic distress caused by the overwhelming dimensions of suffering can make us view suffering: abstractly, as disembodied needs, as nameless and faceless non-human objects and therefore not real. Ironically, empathy can push us towards greater isolation and selfishness. We do this to protect ourselves. And that leads to more concern for self—the enemy of compassion.

In fact new research from Paul Bloom and Richard Davidson contends that empathy alone can lead to less compassion. “The more empathy you have, the more violent you are—the more ready and willing you are to cause pain." This research shows that empathy for victims can create hate and anger

Reading Altruism and my time with Ricard shifted my views and assumptions in many ways. This is a book of philosophy and great stories. But this is also an in-depth book of scientific proof. Only a scientist Buddhist monk could write this. Here's what I learned:

  • Empathy is a vital human lens through which we examine ourselves and others. We need to feel for others and resonate with their circumstances. But empathy can be a step toward compassion and altruism. It is inadequate and even dangerous if it does not evolve into compassion and altruism. Change and action are not assured by feeling for others. So empathy can easily lead to isolation, burnout and empathetic distress. 
  • Compassion is the ability to see everyone as equals and worthy of our care, love and unconditional support. That we are all interconnected to each other. That our fates are tied together. And compassion alone is also inadequate without action.
  • Altruism is the unconditional assistance of "others". Altruism is relieving suffering without expectation. True altruism is not driven by an “ROI”, reciprocity, a quid pro quo, and/or personal gain.
  • Altruism is the antidote to empathetic burnout or fatigue. Helping others unconditionally—people we know or don’t know, feed our sense of purpose and gives us a physical and measurable neural lift. Altruism offsets the burden of need and the weight of guilt, and the stress from being unresponsive.
  • Mindfulness meditation are good if you want to rest and empty your mind. But what do we do with an empty mind before it gets re-filled with the congestion of life? Mindfulness and meditation have to have a purpose, a focus. Meditation focused on compassion fills your mind and shifts your brain toward positive action and behavior. As Matthieu warned us, a great sniper needs to be mindful. He needs to be present, breathe calmly, and reach a state of serenity before he kills people.
  • Purposeful meditation can change your mind and lead to physical as well as spiritual growth. At any age and at any stage, you can learn altruism and meditation is the path.
  • We have to see ourselves less as individuals and more interconnected to fates and destinies of all people and living things, including our environment and planet. Individualism is great for talent and competitiveness, but it undermines our compassion and altruism. Ricard 2

What I learned from Ricard is we have to add intentions, purpose, and then action to our feelings. We deceive ourselves that sympathy, empathy, compassion make us altruistic. In the end altruism is about action. Yes we should feel for others and resonate with their suffering (empathy and sympathy). Yes, we should want to alleviate the suffering (compassion). But without action these are selfish, self-medicating, self-absorbing thoughts that fall short of altruism.

Hate, ignorance, anger, indifference, neglect, are heavy burdens we suffer that dissipate when you are altruistic and express compassionate love. We relieve our own suffering through acts of altruism.

Ricard discussed the amazing work he is doing with school children, about 100,000 involved in compassionate meditation. It is having fantastic results. Calming our kids to focus on themselves and others. One of the stories he shared involved elementary school students, referred to as the “stickers test.”

On two occasions, at they gave each of the students a certain number of stickers they adore so much, along with four envelopes containing respectively a photo of their best friend, their least favorite child, an unknown child, and a visibly ill child wearing a bandage on his forehead. They asked each child to distribute the stickers in the four envelopes. They gave almost all of their stickers to their best friend, and very few to the others. After ten weeks of meditation and practicing benevolence, the students were asked to distribute the stickers in the same envelopes.  The students gave an almost equal number of stickers to the four groups of children: they no longer made any distinction between their favorite classmate and the one they liked least.

It has changed the way I talk and teach mentoring and networking. Mentoring and networking can be selfish pursuits of manipulation and self-serving activities without compassion and alrtruism. While I have been trying to counter self-centeredness with interconnectedness, I realize that I never explicitly embedded positive care, love and authentic regard for one another in my teachings. I assumed it was there. That was wrong.

We are not that far from becoming truly altruistic. But it requires us to train, learn and continue to evolve. Ricard really gave me new thoughts that help me understand my own shortcomings and growth opportunities.

Empathy is not enough. Mindfulness is insufficient. Inaction and apathy are self-destructive. We have to become more connected, compassionate and altruistic if we want to save the world and ourselves.

Thanks for reading. John


Accidental Racism

I am a racist. You are a racist. We are all racists.

We all harbor covert thoughts about people, communities, religions, and disabilities.

  • So you are following a Hummer with a Scientology bumper sticker
  • Or a car full of dark complected youth who have a woofer which is vibrating your dental work
  • Men with turbans are boarding your plane
  • Or you see a gay couple publicly expressing their affections

Yeah, whatever pushes your buttons—you think bad thoughts—admit it!

You would never say anything, but “those people  should_________!” Apples and oranges

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the Ku Klux Klanner but the moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. Excerpts from MLK’s Birmingham Jail Letter

Please do not be one of those people who say they are colorblind. That all people are equal in your eyes. Even if that were true, your blindness would mean you do not care about difference. And difference is everything.

Our greatest vulnerability is that we do not see our fates tied to others. That we believe that our comfort, safety and success can be achieved independently from other people different from us and our families.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.

The brutal truth is we have minimized our direct experiences with difference. Economic diversity in our lives is from the news. We have little tolerance for difference. The last time we had truly diverse friends was in college.

The consequences of these subtle, multiplied, and layered decisions are the increasing inability to relate to the world outside of our bubbles. Our networks are sanitized, pasteurized and free of “unwanted” elements. 

We struggle with relating to the I Can’t Breathe campaigns, Immigration Reform, Muslim hate crimes, Minimum wage protests…... 

We don't discriminate.

We are not prejudiced.

We care about all of our fellow human beings.

We have lost touch with reality.

We are accidental racists.

There are so many studies that show how prevalent our discriminatory inclinations are. 

Step one is to own our racism.

Now before you launch into your well-rehearsed denial speeches, listen to yourself and look around yourself. “Some of your best friends…..Really! Now why is it that your church, your kids’ schools, your place of employment, your golf club, your circle of friends do not reflect the communities we live in?

Admit it we have not done enough.

Our kids grow up in segregation and despite our best intentions they become accidental racists.

Susan Fiske’s extensive research at Princeton shows that as income rises we see poor people as objects and not as humans—mostly because they are a foreign and unknown population.

We watch as the world turns on Muslims again. -Treating a giant diverse population as a monolithic group. A group we do not know. Racism at its best.

Conjures up Nazi Germany or WWII with the internment of Japanese Americans…

This has been going on for a long time--too long.

In 1946 (Martin Luther King Jr. was about 17 and 18 years before Civil Rights), Albert Einstein was frustrated and angry and gave a speech at Lincoln University called, The Negro Question-- Here are some excerpts:

Many a sincere person will answer: "Our attitude towards Negroes is the result of unfavorable experiences which we have had by living side by side with Negroes in this country. They are not our equals in intelligence, sense of responsibility, reliability."

The modern prejudice against Negroes is the result of the desire to maintain this unworthy condition.

What, however, can the man of good will do to combat this deeply rooted prejudice? He must have the courage to set an example by word and deed, and must watch lest his children become influenced by this racial bias.

I do not believe there is a way in which this deeply entrenched evil can be quickly healed. But until this goal is reached there is no greater satisfaction for a just and well-meaning person than the knowledge that he has devoted his best energies to the service of the good cause.

Sadly, these words ring true today. And “Negroes” could be replaced with many communities which combat our racism today.

It is well established that diversity is not a nice to have but a necessity to compete, survive, and evolve. Mother Nature knows this well! Investment portfolios require it. The American Medical Association studies prove that life expectancy is extended as much as 9 years for those that cultivate diverse social networks. But to attain and then maintain diversity professionally and socially takes courage, work, and vigilance.

Evaluate your network. Not talking just about ethnicity, but religious, economic, ability, sexual preference diversity. How will you reach out and build a diverse network?

What example by word and deed are we setting, for our children?

If the tables you sit at just look like you, I do not care how smart, witty you are, it is limited table of opportunities. 

So what are you going to do honor the legacy of Dr. King? More important, what are you going to do to make sure your kids and all of our kids don’t end up to be racists like us?

Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Einstein

 Thanks for reading. John

 


New deadly STD: OMBYism

In my recent encounter with Father Greg Boyle, the famed gang interventionist and founder of Homeboy Industries, he quoted Mother Teresa. "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." He said the measure of our ability to care about one another will be realized "when we love more than who loves us." He has spent most of his life loving gang members and helping them put their lives back together.

In contrast, many people overwhelmed by the world around them have decided that taking care of themselves and their own immediate families is all they can do. And they have convinced themselves that if everyone else just did the same then the world would be a better place. This way of thinking has led us to a number of socially transmitted diseases. (STDs)

NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) is one of the long standing STDs.These infected people want everything just not in their neighborhood. Freeway off ramps, trash disposal, mass transit, homeless shelters, commercial development, schools, elder care etc. I remember well the families that appeared at a local City Council meeting to protest a Montessori pre-school operated out of a Victorian home for more than 100 years (Julia Child went there). The school served 76 kids! "The sound of children" was just too much for these sensitive and angry neighbors. Ultimately, the school had to build higher walls around it to better contain the laughter and pitter patter of little feet. These NIMBYists wanted better schools in the neighborhood but not next door, even when that school was there decades before their homes were built. I know it makes no sense, but that is how toxic the seemingly incurable NIMBYism disease can be. Backyard

I have discovered a vicious new strain of NIMBYism and the fastest growing STD--OMBYism--Only My Back Yard--this deadly disease triggers several brutal symptoms causing the sufferer to experience extreme self-centeredness, myopia, and ethnocentrism. These are followed by an uncontrollable penchant to live in gated communities, a significant decline in empathy for others, and an obsessive desire to maintain the status quo. OMBYists are devoted to only taking care of their back yard and their family. They have very stunted and homogenized networks. Their credo is: Love only who loves you, especially if they are like you.

The infuriating flaw with this selfish approach to life fails to recognize that a pampered family will have to live in a real  world that looks nothing like that back yard. The OMBYists superiority complex and self righteous attitude are artificial prophylactics against reality. And that the children of these infected parents breed unnecessary prejudice between their kind and the rest of the world.

Only loving who loves you is the breathing standard of living a meaningful life. Of course we love our families! Yes we love people back. But our lives will be defined by how we pro-actively broaden that circle. How we embrace others outside of our families and our clone communities. Father Greg Boyle talks about how learning to love gang members has deepened his perspective to see the other side of the tracks literally. There is no purely good and purely bad when it comes to humans and the human struggle. The world is becoming more complex. The easy way out is to define the limits of our spheres of influence as our family, immediate circle of friends and the edge of our fence lines. To over simplify the world into the good and the evil by deluding ourselves that somehow we are better than the others.

I recently met a man who wanted to make a shift from working at an elitist and highly privileged institution to a community based organization. He said his life goal is to help the "under-served" and the "less fortunate" people in our society. It sounded a bit insincere, but I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. So I said, "That's a wonderful life mission. So how do you help the "under-served and less fortunate" now?" He looked at me like I called him a dirty name. He was flustered and said, "That's my goal, not what I do now!" He went on to explain how busy he is, how demanding his job is, that he has a couple of teenagers, and he likes playing golf occasionally........His words faded as I saw the letters O--M--B--Y appear on his forehead. In other words, he has no time for others outside of his backyard. No time to do anything except take care of thyself and thy heirs. He only thinks about the "under-served and the less fortunate",when he is trying to impress others and feel less guilty. Kid

Adopting the mentoring and networking lifestyle is an antidote to the onset of NIMBYism and OMBYism. While we should take care of and enjoy our verdant back yards, the world outside of those walls is so much more beautiful and filled with real people who are under-served and less fortunate. We have to break down those fences and walls. We have to create connections and relationships that add value and build  broader communities that can confront and overcome the challenges we face, by loving many more than love us.

Thanks for reading. John

 


Seeing "Invisible" Networks through Inclusivity

All of us think we are open minded, free of prejudice, and sensitive to differences. We also know that trying to uphold these values is a struggle. Often our sensitivity and compassion are limited by what we know and see. Our eyes can be opened to new dimensions, attributes, and new understandings by a shift in perspective that reveals new truths.

I have given a number of talks about diversity and networking in Canada. Canadians talk about "visible minorities", a more politically correct colored people. Diversity is very different in Canada for obvious and not so obvious historical reasons. Nevertheless, they differentiate between the visible and the invisible.

Invisible man I remember when I was working at UCLA and was responsible for recruiting its top undergrad scholars. We formed this UCLA Ambassador group as the creme de la creme to represent UCLA and recruit more scholars. The Ambassadors were presented to a very diverse group of leaders and a prominent African American leader expressed her disappointment at the lack of diversity of this student group. We had the Ambassadors introduce themselves and the audience was treated to a United Nations set of multi-racial, religious, immigrant, sexual preference, and economically diverse biographies that made everyone proud. Diversity is not visible and is most often not skin deep. Often we only talk and think about the visible. Many populations are invisible to the naked eye. Populations with wonderful histories, unmet needs, and under represented potential.

This week my perspective of my fellow humankind was forever changed. This shift tested my comfort and sense of how inclusive I am. How open minded I am. How accepting I am of differences. I saw something right in front of me for the first time.

I had the great fortune of attending an intimate meeting with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. Been around a lot of leader types over my varied career. Admiral Mullen is one of the most genuine, compassionate, and competent leaders I have ever encountered. He speaks from the heart, he listens, and he discloses his weaknesses. Pretty amazing for a command and control 4 star general!Mullen

His focus was on the fate of the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 2,000,000 men and women have been deployed to these wars and their return back to civilian life has been very rough. A few facts that made me think and view things differently:

  1. 25% have traumatic brain injuries(tbi)
  2. 25% have post traumatic stress disorder(ptsd)
  3. Homelessness is 4x bigger, 4x faster, and 4x more severe than Vietnam Vets

He discussed in great detail the challenges that the government has had to make sure that returning soldiers have a successful transition into civilian life. He admitted that these two systems are separate bureaucracies that are not well coordinated. The system has many holes and many soldiers and their families fall through those gaps and the consequences can be brutal. Admiral Mullen is on a tour of the country to raise the visibility of the needs of veterans and the role of local communities to provide assistance. He admitted that government could not do it alone. He asserted that local communities will be an important third component.

There are many organizations that support veterans, and he is grateful for the groups that recognize veterans and put on parades, but he wants to help grow and invest in organizations that are involved in the long term treatment and education of veterans.

During the meeting, many examples where veterans are not being included in the services, programs, and outreach for homeless, mentally ill, substance abuse etc. Veterans are not turned away, but they are not being included or recruited.

Hopefully your perspective may shift a bit and when you encounter a vet or a family, engage them and if they need help, guide them. Here is a couple of great resources for veterans and their families:

Warrior Gateway

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

Inclusion is not a passive act, It is a proactive act. Inclusion is not just an open door or an open mind. It is a process of engaging and understanding. It is building bridges. Inclusion requires awareness, education, and targeted approaches. After listening to Admiral Mullen I realized that serving veterans would require this mindset. That serving veterans and their families will require great intention and effort. That veterans are not a "visible minority" they are hidden and not easily identified. Veterans, like immigrants, or the undocumented, or other groups need encouragement and doors opened. They need sensitive and proactive processes.

For example, I am going to pursue adding the population of veterans and their families as a evaluation criterion for the grants my employer the California Community Foundation makes. Just adding those words and a little help in understanding why, will shift the perspectives and outreach of all of our grantees.

When we realize that all members of our communities are connected and that our fates are tied together. We support diversity, by understanding differences, by actively reaching out to learn about and include visible and invisible peoples, including out veterans. Then will we be more inclusive.

Thanks for reading. John