Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism.
Hubert H. Humphrey
The headlong rush to the “I’m all right Jack, sod you.” culture, began in earnest in the 1980s with the rise of the Yuppies and the “Greed is good” mindset. Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at that time, famously stated that ‘There is no such thing as society.”
And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no governments can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours.
The opinion that she expressed in this speech is chilling in its content. A call to put the self ahead of the rest of the world. A siren call to Ego that was reflected back by Ronald Regan the then President of the United States.
This world view, as expressed by the leaders of the western democracies, helps to explain the shift in mentality seen in much of the western world. A mentality that lies behind a gradual drift to Individualism and Nationalism that has contributed so much to the current turmoil in the world. Not least to the increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots, and where difference is seen as dangerous.
A world view that divides people into two camps, us and them. Fortunately this view is now being challenged by new generations.
Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By putting our interests first, with no regard for others, we erase the very thing that a nation holds dearest, and the thing that keeps it alive: its moral values.
If Margaret Thatcher is taken literally, she is saying that governments, that is the people in power, should act in their own interests first and only put those of the people they were elected to serve second.
A prophetic utterance if ever there was one.
The final result has been the alienation of many citizens from the societies in which they live, and a rise in xenophobia and Nationalism..
Never criticize a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.
Native American Saying
The counterbalance to this is to develop a compassionate mindset. If we work to understand and appreciate the other person’s point of view and their life circumstances, we put ourselves in a position to help both them and ourselves. The scientific research suggests that being compassionate is good for us.
Compassion should not be confused with pity, an emotional state which emphasises the difference between the two parties.
In many ways compassion becomes a shared experience that allows us to focus on what we hold in common. Triggering a desire that others, as well as ourselves, should be free of suffering and its causes. As one definition summarises it..
‘Compassion is’…being sensitive to the suffering of self and others with a deep commitment to try to prevent and relieve it.
The Dalai Lama
Compassion is not only being open to another’s suffering, but also needs to be directed to the self. We all suffer in different ways, and compassion helps us to reflect on this and make an appropriate response. A positive mindset which is of benefit to ourselves as well as others.
The western world has developed a society in which many people have a very low opinion of themselves. Focussing on what is wrong at the expense of what is right. A world in which anxiety and depression have become a normal part of many people’s lives.
Developing a compassionate mindset allows us to reverse this situation. When we develop an understanding of the causes and effects that are at play in our own lives we can address them more easily, and so become better placed to understand and respond to others suffering as well.
Once we understand our own circumstances, and observe our habitual responses, we can act out of that changed mindset and become a positive influence in our world.
The good news is that the more you practice compassion the easier it gets.
Fake it until you make it.
I recently had a discussion with my son about the ways in which animals get their energy from food.
In articular we were discussing the way cows extract maximum energy from cellulose in the vegetation that they eat, and the process of rumination or chewing the cud that this involves.
“Eeuuh, you mean they eat their own sick?” was his response.
In a way this is what the cognitive process of rumination is like.
Take a pinch of white man
Wrap him up in black skin
Add a touch of blue blood
And a little bitty bit of red Indian boy
Oh like a Curly Latin kinkies
Oh Lordy, Lordy, mixed with yellow Chinkees, yeah
You know you lump it all together
And you got a recipe for a get along scene
Oh what a beautiful dream
If it could only come true, you know, you knowWhat we need is a great big melting pot
Big enough enough enough to take
The world and all its got And keep it stirring for a hundred years or more
And turn out coffee coloured people by the score.Blue MInk – Melting Pot
Psychotherapy and mediation have much in common.
In therapy, it is the conflicts and tensions that exist in our inner world that we need to resolve if we are to live at peace with ourselves. Mediation is a similar process and concerns the conflicts that arise in our outer space. We need to resolve such difficulties when they arise because we are social beings, and therefore have to reach an accommodation with other people if we want to live in a harmonious world.
As we grow up and develop within our families we go through an unconscious process of learning how to be human. We learn how to be “our kind” of human. The world view that we learn is based on “how we do things around here.” A world view that is acquired rather than being innate.
This becomes what we call our culture
We learn to be a human being in our family, in our street, in our community, in our country. This becomes what we call our culture and includes a multitude of beliefs and behaviours that we accept without question as being the only way to do things. How we talk, what we wear, what we eat and even what we think and believe. It is interesting to see how many non-religious people in the UK, when asked, say that their religion is Church of England, even though they have never been to church in their entire lives.
A kind of psychological adaptation to the stresses of living where we live.
Culture – the social environment that we grow up in – provided an evolutionary, or at least survival advantage for humanity as we spread out across the globe and populated our world. It binds us together into a supportive group that is best adapted to survive in the particular region of the world that we have come to call our home. A kind of psychological adaptation to the stresses of living where we live.
Ties of blood and clan became ever more important as our population expanded. When there were only a few modern humans wandering the world, resources were plentiful and we were unlikely to come into conflict with other people. As populations grew “ownership” of fertile land and well stocked hunting grounds became more important, and our cultural differences became signs of danger and threat. So much so that the banks and ditches that our ancestors built to show ownership of land are still visible in our world thousands of years later.
In much the same way that the different fishing villages of Scotland had their own specific knitting patterns for fishermens’ jumpers (allowing drowned sailors’ bodies to be returned home), and the different clans developed tartans out of the local weaving patterns and available dyes, we started to identify strangers by their dress, jewellery, and speech.
Difference became more important than similarity. Differences began to trigger a judgement of danger and threat. Our social nature only went so far. In the same way that the folk in Gulliver’s Travels almost went to war over which end of a boiled egg should be cut off before it is eaten, our different ways of doing things became part of our personal identity rather than an adaptation to the local world.
When we feel threatened by others who challenge our habitual ways of doing things our instinct is to fight back. The perceived threat is often as trivial as how we eat our eggs.
We interpret the world through glasses that have become obscured by our culture, religion. political ideology, social class or even which footie team we choose to support. Difference produces immediate and automatic judgements about others and their intentions.
If you tell them they are under threat they will let you do anything.
Early in the twenty-first century this is clearly seen in the increasing isolationism in the western world. Immigrants in particular have come in for a considerable degree of fearful and negative stereotyping. Cultural dress is seen as threatening, different religious practices become cause for paranoid concern and we all attack what we do not know.
We come to accept as truth what is mere falsehood based on ignorance. The lies spread by populist politicians with their own axes to grind are accepted, unchallenged as truth. Worrying echoes of the rise of fascism in the mid twentieth century.
So all muslims become terrorists, all immigrants are just after an easy life. “Coming over here taking away our jobs” etc. Yet none of these ideas stand up to any degree of scrutiny. For instance, many of the West Indian members of the UK population arrived as the local population didn’t want to do important jobs like driving buses or garbage disposal. Many asian families arrived – as was their legal right – to run corner shops or chippies that took whole families, working all hours, just to put food on the table. Not to mention the large number of foreign doctors and nurses that keep the NHS running.
Migrants are seen as a drain on the local tax payer, yet all the evidence shows that these groups are net contributors to the economies of any country to which they move.
The sad thing about this misplaced fear of strangers is that diversity is good for us. Isolation leads to in-bred populations which stagnate and wither away and die. So called “mongrel vigour” produces healthier, stronger populations. One of the best things we can do for our children is to marry out. This introduces new genes into a population and reduces the incidence of many culturally bound illnesses.
One of the best things we can do for our children is to marry out.
So, next time we find ourselves making an automatic judgement about anything, young people, strangers, Chelsea supporters, add your own bias here, perhaps we should take a second or two to think about what we are doing.
The reality is that the things that we humans have in common far outweigh our differences. Under our skin and different customs we are all human, and if our families have been settled out of Africa for more than a few generations, we are all descended from the same small groups of modern humans that spread out to colonise the world just a few thousand years ago.
Perhaps the time has come for mankind to work together in the best interests of all, rather than allowing a priveleged elite to run the world for their own benefit.