Early in my political science training, I learned about the critique of the effects of modern capitalism. As it goes, the effects of modern capitalism are such that they produce 1) individuals who are alienated from the world and themselves (because of the need to produce meaningless objects to feed the consumerism inherent in capitalism), 2) individuals who only “look out for ‘#1’”, because in the competition generated by capitalism, individuals do not have the luxury of considering anyone, especially because that other person might just take advantage of them, 3) a “dog-eat-dog” world, where anything goes to climb to the top, including stepping on (oppressing) as many people in the process to make the exalted dollar.
Capitalism aside…is this the world we live in? Is this “how people are”?
This never quite sat well with me. I can see that this is the tendency: people are distracted, in a hurry, competitive, want to get ahead, and want to “make it”…but does it have to be at the expense of others and Self? I never thought so.
I am here to offer an alternative to those of you who live in this world, who see the tendencies toward alienation and competition and disregard to others but who want to see and experience something different instead of these things. If you want to begin to experience more understanding, more compassion, and more kindness, counter those tendencies with these thoughts:
1. Know thyself. And its sister: The unexamined life is not worth living.
How do we know ourselves? How do we get at what is inside? How do we live that? The self that I seek with this is a deeper self, some say a “higher self”, some say a “Christ self”, or the “Buddha/enlightened self”, in some Native cultures it is called, simply, “beauty”. Whatever it is– the moral self, the good will– I am not too particular about the label, or the words– it is simply the best that a person can find within themselves and everyone has it…whether they know it or not.
For me this has two aspects: reaching and letting go.
Reaching: Consciously striving toward this self. This means deciding on (thinking about, making conscious decisions regarding) the qualities that comprise this self and moving in that direction in mind/heart/actions: in other words, aligning the “outside” with the “inside”. Honesty, integrity, and purity are words we associate with such qualities. What, then, do these qualities mean to me (or you), in my/your life? In interactions? At work? At play?
This then requires contemplation, study, meditation, etc., to understand these qualities as they apply to YOU, to your uniqueness. Only you can know yourself in this way. Only you understand what the words mean to you and how they express themselves through you.
In a way, though, “reaching” is a misnomer. Ultimately, we do not need to strive, to reach. We just need to allow. This self is who we are. But we are only this self to the extent that we are conscious of this self. Christ/Buddha/Beauty may exist in all of us, but if we aren’t aware of this existence…it doesn’t exist in our lives. So reaching is really just adapting our minds to allowing this to be.
Letting go: finding the crap and letting it go. This means drudging up (seeking out, welcoming, examining) whatever emotion/thought/memory/behavior that stands in the way of the reaching and figuring out how to release it. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that if you only cultivate all that “goodness” that you won’t have crap lurking in the shadows keeping you stuck and angry and frustrated, which then inhibits all that “good”.
This is hard. There are tough questions here: Where are the disturbances? Where is the discomfort? What bothers me? What ruffles me? What am I afraid of? Some terms for this are “forgiveness”, “atonement”, “sacrifice”, “healing”—again I am not too particular about labels. The point is to unlearn the ugly, the angry, the blame, the guilt.
In the letting go, the space is opened for greater reaching. Say good bye to alienation and claim knowledge of yourself.
So the self, that “true” self, the higher self, the best self, lays the foundation. And when we strive toward that self and live in that self, we also have the responsibility to make sure that we are being true to others from this foundation:
2. And this above all:
To thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
This is not an ego-self-centered declaration. I was appalled when I discovered that most people read it in that way: “look out for #1”. “I’m going to be true to myself and do whatever I please. Screw everyone else. When I am true to myself, I’m being true to them and i don’t care if they see that or not. What is important to me is doing what I want”.
Rather, Shakespeare is admonishing us to see the point at which we are not false to anyone. It is only at this point, when you are true to ALL, you are only truly true to yourself. When thoughts and actions (derived from the best self) are for the benefit and love of everyone to the best possible outcome, then you know you are being True to your Self.
It’s a gauge, a test: “what action will serve the whole in the highest way possible? That’s the action I should strive for. That’s the decision I should make. And that is when I know that I am being true to myself”. Any action that is only self-serving is NOT being true to myself, but the opposite.
With this comes a subtle implication of oneness and unity; connectedness. When I consider the good of all, the whole, and include myself in it, along with everyone else, I don’t see so much separation or so much that is foreign. I am compelled to consider more than my little world. My standards change about what I am willing to accept as “good” or “right” to encompass this broader relational understanding.
Then, once the “self” is extended theoretically to the whole, there is then its conscious application and acceptance of responsibility to each other for our mutual uplifting (enlightenment):
3. The Brush Dance is a Yurok Indian healing ritual where being true to yourself means giving your best to help a person in need. Being true to yourself is the one and only Yurok Indian law.
What does this mean in today’s world? What does it mean for you? How are you “in need”? What do you wish someone would do for you?
The thing is—everyone has hurt. Everyone has pain. Everyone is dealing with SOMETHING that is making their day not as good as it could be. It could be as simple as a bad cup of coffee or the wrong song on the radio, or just too much damn traffic. But it could also be a death in the family, or a major illness or financial uncertainty. Everyone has something that is asking for compassion. Make it your job to give it to them.
So, be nice to people. Have compassion. Be kind. Open doors for people, say thank you, let people in when merging in traffic, be polite. Smile. Be a friend, be a neighbor, be a daughter or son, or just a kind stranger.
It’s not difficult. But sometimes when people are too involved in their own struggle or pain, they forget—so remind them, and keep reminding them. Over and over and over again…remind them.
This kind of behavior would definitely move people out of a dog-eat-dog mentality! Especially if it is grounded in a higher-deeper aspect of being human that looks to providing the best for all—in other words, grounded in the first two dictums.
My advisor always used to chastise me when I would see the world through such an idealist framework. “WHY” He would ask “do I care?” “Why, in this world where everyone is out to get me, should I help someone who will simply (most likely) turn around and step all over me?” I get that. I do. In the real world of economics and politics and corporate advancement none of this makes sense.
I choose to live in this world, but not by its rules. I maintain my sanity and my integrity, as only I can—by being true to myself—which is being true to you, too.And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Photo credit to Tam Black, copyright 2010, used with permission of the owner