How Universally Compassionate Are You?None By Homaira Kabir
Most of us feel a strong bond with family. Many of us share this feeling of kinship with our communities and even our nations. But what about the entire world? How many of us are able to identify with “all humans everywhere”?
You’d be in the vast majority if you said that thinking about yourself as a member of the human species is hardly front and center of your mind in your day to day experiences. You likely feel more strongly about other group memberships, based on gender, politics or sports, and often gain a sense of self-identity and self-worth through your affiliation with such groups.
While this is well in line with our human tendency towards group loyalties, it seems that our planet today needs more from us. Given the environmental and social challenges we face, from depleting resources to intolerance and polarization, we would do well to question our helpfulness to our own "tribe," especially when it's at the expense of another.
Universal compassion may be a tall order for our limited emotional and physical resources. But given that it’s correlated with an increase in life satisfaction and meaning, and also with greater concern for social justice and global issues, we owe it to ourselves and others to consciously develop it. Luckily, it’s easier than we imagine. After all, most forms of human connection are like muscles to be strengthened. And here’s the bonus—they’ll help us find the fulfillment we all seek.
Maintain Your Sense of Safety
Unlike bees, we humans are concerned about our own lives before that of others. We don't reach out to those in need when our own survival is at stake. This propensity served us well in the wild savannas tens of thousands of years ago. But in today’s world, when our fears are mostly psychological, we’d do well to let go of many of them. Cognitive behavioral techniques such as asking yourself “What’s the evidence for this thought or fear?” or “What’s another way of looking at it?” are great ways of questioning our fears and reassuring ourselves of our safety. Research shows that people who feel secure tend to be more helpful in their behaviors.
Take a Walk in Other Worlds
To be genuinely concerned for others, we need to build the muscle of cognitive empathy. It allows us to see the world from other people’s perspective, rather than be locked up in our own views. Perspective taking isn't only about having empathy for those whom we share our planet with—but also about those who will come after us. This is the “long lens” of perspective—what world are we leaving behind for future generations, who may no longer be in a position to change the course of civilization?
Encourage Positive Diversity
We feel fearful when things are different. By exposing ourselves to different cultures and their ways of living, we break down the barriers that separate us and increase feelings of oneness. We learn to see similarities below the superficial mask of differences. But we also learn to appreciate our differences. This is what true integration is about—not a melting pot of sameness, but a beautiful harmony of the differentiated fabric of humanity.
Take Compassionate Action
18th-century German writer Goethe famously said: “Knowing is not enough, we must apply”. Many of our efforts fall short of the action stage, sometimes because we continue to harbor fears, but often because action requires the courage to step out of our comfortable lives. When we rise to our inherent goodness through caring and compassionate behaviors, we also create upward spirals of pro-social behavior. The research on helping shows that seeing someone else being helpful propels us to do the same.
Safeguard Your Sanity
People high in concern for the larger humanity, as measured by the Identification With All Humanity scale (IWAH) also tend to be high in anxiety and negativity—which means that the woes of the world can bring them down and make them feel hopeless. This is where it’s important to do what we can, while knowing that there are limits to what we can achieve. Sometimes, it could mean simply letting go and accepting that certain things are beyond our power to change.
In The Origin of Species, Darwin urged the human race to extend their sympathies to people of “all nations and races” in order to evolve to higher forms of civilization. Given the problems we face, nurturing love towards all may be just what we need to rise to a higher consciousness and take humanity safely into the next century and beyond.
Homaira Kabir is a Women’s Leadership Coach, a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist and a Positive Psychology Practitioner, whose work expands the breadth of the human experience. She empowers women to become leaders of their own selves in order to become leaders in relationships, at work and in life. You can read more about her work at homairakabir.com or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter (@homairakabir).
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