Extending Your Boundaries: Open to an Ever-increasing Circle of Caring
by George Pitagorsky
"A human being is a part of the whole, called by us, universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness, that separation. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.
Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion, to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security." - Einstein
It is natural to care for and about people and things that are close to us.
In business, people sub-optimize entire organizations to do what is best for their department; they sacrifice team and department for personal self-interest.
In communities people naturally take care of themselves, members of their families, blocks, sections, clans, ethnic and religious groups often at the expense of outsiders. Businesses act to promote their own bottom-line interests often without regard to their effect on the environment, local economies and macro-economic health.
Politicians take advantage of this tendency to care for self and close-ones. For example, by getting people to think their opponent is a member of an outsider group (I'm think about radical conservatives who say Barack Obama is a Muslim) or promoting hatred of the "other" tribe or religious group (I'm thinking Rwanda, Bosnia, Nazi Germany, and an unfortunately a long list of other situations).
How can an individual break out of the delusion and expand the circle?
The first step is to acknowledge the natural tendency to care for oneself and those in close circles. Then assess the benefits and liabilities of continuing thinking and behavior that reinforces the delusion of separateness.
Do what you can do to change the patterns in a way that enhances the benefits and either reduces or eliminates the liabilities.
In organizations, think of the system as a whole and how optimizing your part of it affects the organization's performance and, in turn, how that affects you over the long term. In relationships, think about how thinking of yourself without thinking of the other(s) effects the quality of the relationship. In communities, think of the benefits of peace and harmony over conflict.
Reflect on the way you and your department or family are connected to others. Think, "How will this affect others; how will it affect long term relationships and the environment." Ask yourself "Can I sacrifice what is best for me for what is best for a wider circle?" See how it makes you feel when you do it.
Expanding your boundaries and thinking of others doesn't mean that you have to invite everyone you meet to dinner or impoverish yourself by giving everything to others. That's for saints. While we might aspire to sainthood, let's be practical. Find a balance that is effective for your situation. Let sainthood evolve as you feel the glow that comes from being generous, kind, caring and compassionate to an ever widening circle of people.
© 2012 Pitagorsky Consulting