Archive for the ‘compassion’ Tag

Ethic of conservation

I’ve been reading Thomas Friedman’s amazing Hot, Flat, and Crowded, and am full of an urgency right now about our collective future.  Friedman says we are in dire need of three things: clean energy, energy efficiency, and an ethic of conservation. 

It’s this last one that worries me the most.  It’s the one that is most difficult to define, talk about, and transition to.  We’ve spent a century being wasteful in the extreme (especially in America, but also globally).  We’ve abandoned thrift and humility; we seriously believe we’re entitled to huge wealth and to using resources any way we wish to advance our greed; we measure success in terms of material possessions, and generally (if sometimes secretly) admire profligate spending.

Introducing and firmly establishing an ethic of conservation is a formidable mission.  The term does not mean just recycling soda cans or newspapers; it suggests a transition that changes the roots of thinking.  It involves losing all sense of entitlement, and fostering an attitude of constant gratitude and care.  It actually requires that we orient our lives towards compassion, that we leave personal greed behind and exist only for the benefit of others.

Anyone out there see this happening anytime soon?  Probably not, but our healthy future depends on it.

I have an older sister whom I idolize.  About ten years ago, I noticed something about her that, at the time, actually irritated me.  She has a way of being infinitely gentle with absolutely everything: people, ideas, and things.  She is always attuned to the feelings of others, and will sacrifice without hesitation for their needs.  She asks questions, rather than making pronouncements.  She puts away the clean dishes without making a sound.  When I first realized this, I was irritated by what I perceived as a weakness in her.  But soon enough, I came to undertand that she was not at all being obsequious; rather, she was operating from a well-entrenched ethic of conservation.  Ever since, I’ve been working on emulating her.

We must take conservation to heart, to the very source of consciousness and personality, and learn to exist day to day in unbroken compassion for all things.  Such a re-invention of thought is an almost impossibly tall order.  Nonetheless, we must chip away at it, or eliminate the human race.

Roots of poverty

I would like to write about the disgraces of poverty as it exists in hard core reality and thereby help jump start action to aid the indigent.  I have experienced dire lack of funds myself.  I have worked with children who have no toys at home, who come to school in the morning hungry and depressed.  I have seen the inner city poverty we tolerate around this country.  But poverty, at least the economic kind, really is a relative stranger to most Americans.  We may be poor, some may even be hungry, but there are enough open doors here to ensure that all of us can avoid poverty if we so desire.  Notable success and riches may not be so available, but basic decent living is.

So what weighs on my mind this Blog Action Day is the cause of poverty more than its manifestation.  We Americans are comfortably shielded from its worst effects, but we participate daily in its causes. 

Poverty, different from being poor, is absence of opportunity, hope, or ambition.  The destitute are those who have no options, whose lives are wasted in the endless hunt for something to eat, for shelter and clothing.  Poverty is where humanity sinks back down into the animal kingdom.

And poverty is the state of mind that accepts “the poor ye have always with you,” that considers the destitute part of natural life, that glories in its own power and patronizes those less fortunate with token gifts.  Poverty is the world view that pits one human against another, that attributes to luck or savvy the success of the ‘haves’ and feels only superficial responsibility for the rotten estate of the ‘have-nots.’  Poverty is winner-and-loser thinking, an us-and-them attitude.

This poverty of the spirit is the true enemy.  We are slowly waking up to the bodhisattva perception that none of us is saved unless and until we are all saved.  Kiva and the other organizations with new ideas about sharing our resources with those less fortunate are operating according to this understanding.  They are helping third world countries progress, but far more importantly, they are nurturing human evolution into a species that values the spirit, that is universally rich in compassion, that respects the poor but refuses to tolerate poverty.

“Truth that resonates”

Not so very long ago, while still in JOB land, I had the assignment to go deliver a talk to a men’s group at the country club.  Driven by my organization’s mission, I was eager to share with as many others as possible, and happily accepted the opportunity.  The gents were cordial enough, and as we dined together I even had a couple of relatively intelligent conversations.  I had a speech planned, and launched confidently into it at the appointed time.  Big mistake.

My speech was serious and passionate.  These guys were mostly half-drunk (and one or two were six sheets gone).  They wanted lighthearted and sexy; I was giving them profound and fierce.  Still, it wasn’t til I was almost done, and caught one of the crowd making obvious signals of distaste to the chairman that I realized no one had heard my message at all.  I had bored and disgusted them, and I left mortified.

Our amazing soothsayer, Seth Godin, came up with this capper yesterday: “Negative or positive, the challenge isn’t just to tell the truth. It’s to tell truth that resonates.”

Giving speeches is tricky, because one wants to prepare, but the capacity to adapt your presentation to the audience must be improvisational.  It’s all about empathy and careful listening.  While staying true to the content of your message, you have to communicate it in language appropriate to the moment.   At ten in the morning, those guys at the country club may have been able to consider what I was saying.  After drinks and dinner at the club, it was simply not a possibility.

Whatever you are promoting, you must care about in your heart.  And then you must forget it, and focus on potential clientele with all your wide open compassion.  Connections between them and your offering will then bubble up naturally enough.  Sticking to your rehearsed agenda can end up being an embarrassing waste of breath.

Branding and compassion

“When you treat people with respect, acknowledgment, and genuine positive reinforcement, you significantly increase the odds of creativity — and by extension, innovation — flourishing in your organization.”  So said Mitch Ditkoff a few days ago on his Heart of Innovation blog.

Branding of any kind is about sharing with others; it’s a function of communication.  It is not, however, about bragging or sharing yourself in the sense of shoving your personality down other people’s throats.  It’s really about sharing your capacity to be compassionate.  It’s the reputation you’ve earned for the level at which you’re able to help others.

As accomplished and marvelous as I may be, the only thing of real interest to anyone else is how well I can share the benefits of my prowess.  My achievements that can be duplicated by others or that serve to aid and comfort others are the ones that really count.

Ditkoff’s point goes even a little futher, however, in saying that it is possible to bring the sources of inspiration closer, to make innovation part of your everyday business, by establishing a culture of mutual “respect, acknowledgement and … positive reinforcement.”  I suggest that likewise, a worker wanting to strengthen personal branding does well to start with a strong dedication to supporting others.  Even if this doesn’t come naturally to you, as you practice compassion you’ll become infinitely more aware of what makes you tick.