The Best Thing I Can Do…

Friday 25 October, 2019

Whenever a group of people find themselves working closely together, there will inevitably be friction. Left unaddressed, tempers boil over and people clash in ways they later, when calmness returns, wish they hadn’t. Prior to such explosions of untempered, unacknowledged emotions, moods are likely to be simmering under the surface. Unnoticed, they begin to emerge in the form of irritable responses, snide comments, complaints or finger pointing. It’s easy to moan about a situation; it’s more difficult to do something about it.

More difficult, perhaps, but if we at least show some endeavour, we can ease our situation a little. And there, in that sentence, lies the way in. The situation itself may be beyond our control (hence any feelings of futility and frustration), but there is still something we can do.

I once heard Ram Dass say: ‘The best thing I can do for you is work on myself. And the best thing you can do for me is work on yourself.’  That is such a profound statement, and it puts me in mind of two fundamental principles of co-existence.

The first is the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This rule of life underpins all of religion and, together with the notion of love, it’s all you need to guide your behaviour. If you are pointing the finger at others, blaming the world , and expecting others to change, then you must expect the same in return. But if you are kind and considerate, you open the door for others to be the same with you. (Aside from the fact that you are also leading by example.) It’s the same with listening. If you do not listen to others, how can you expect them to listen to you?

The other tenet is summarised by an idea proposed in 1833 and known as the Tragedy of the Commons. It uses the theoretical example of people being permitted to graze their animals on common land. If everyone takes a little, it can work. Unfortunately, when people act in their own self-interest, independently of each other, it has a detrimental impact on the ability of everyone to benefit. This understanding helps to reduce our behaviour to the question: ‘What might happen if everyone did what I’m doing?

Again, using the example of blame and judgement, how does the group benefit when everyone does it? (Have you ever noticed how the wise and the happy tend to move away from excessive negativity? Probably not, actually, because they do it so quietly.) More importantly, is there some behaviour which, when adopted by everyone, benefits both the individual and the group? Yes, of course. Generosity, love, thoughtfulness, compassion… All the good stuff.

And there’s this one: Work on yourself. By all means, do what you can to change your circumstances (using positive, constructive energy, rather than negative, destructive energy). Most importantly, however, all the while you are doing that, find a way to make peace with where you are and what you’re doing. Learn to relax, find the learning in every experience, grow, improve, become more resilient, more tolerant, more understanding, more powerful. And inspire others to do the same.

I recall Aesop’s fable of the sun and the wind, who bet each other they could remove the clothes of the old man they saw on the street. The wind blew as hard as he could, but the man simply held on tighter to his clothes (…beliefs!). Then the sun shone as brightly as it had ever shone, and one by one, the man removed all his clothes.

Be the sunshine.

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