This is a particularly good exercise. If you’re reading this then it’s likely that you generally like people. Some socialised peopled can behave anti-socially on, ironically, social media, but most feel the tug to be tribal. We know deep down that being separate from the group is more dangerous and less enjoyable. This is why prisoners describe the lack of freedom as most painful, even when their conditions might otherwise seem good.
Jail is our modern equivalent to shunning. Before you got kicked out and had to find a way to survive by catching 100% of your own food, making 100% of your own clothes and 100% of your own fire-making and socialising. In prison you get your jump suit and your food that’s heated over a stove, but it can still be a dangerous place unless you become a high enough ranking person to have protection, but even that pits you against other similar-strength people. We’re all really better off getting along.
Of course living with others does require a compromising approach that seeks something that works well for everyone, and yet at the same time if we have to sacrifice too much of who we are then we’re better off finding a group that matches us better. That said, adaptations on our part also expand us, so learning to get along with those you don’t get along with is an actual life skill.
Over the last couple decades there has been an increasing amount of judgment in the First World. Fed, watered, sheltered, the lower portions of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is covered, meaning you’re looking for things to do. Those things used to largely be actions, not idleness.
Actions would be things like developing yourself, enhancing your environment, playing games or sports with others, being artistic through music or dance or carving or painting or weaving or whatever. Even at the turn of the last century it was an activity for a family to actively sit around a radio and listen. Yes, listening was an actual activity. It was something you completely did, not something that was on while you did other things.
Today there are a lot of people doing none of those things. A lot of people watch a lot of TV or spend a lot of time on the internet, and what’s there is what’s here–lots of words. I write professionally, but words are the ego’s tools, so that’s why when I’m healthiest I make the time to drag race, play drums, garden, or play some type of strategy game. These things are very involving and yet they involve little or no words. It’s why lots of kids have taken up knitting.
All of the judging people are doing is done in words. They think their judgments inside their own heads and then either say them or write them, or they don’t. But the judgment’s happened either way. That judgment is an ego-action inside our heads that separates us from our human tribe.
You might find it unpleasant imagining giving help to someone you don’t like, but imagine being able to get the help normally associated with a friend, from literally everyone. That’s what Star Trek imagined and that’s where we’re generally headed. A whole bunch of us want fewer borders and a greater emphasis on saving Earthlings, not just Earthlings like us. So that is where we’re going. The question is, what will you do to get yourself there?
Today’s meditation is easy, and yet it’s one of your most challenging yet: find gratitude in a place where you’d least expect it. Ask a few friends or people you see regularly: what sort of people do you complain about most? Maybe they’re rich, maybe they’re poor, maybe they’re intolerant of other cultures, maybe they’re from another culture, maybe they vote differently from you, maybe they’re in jail, maybe they have a temper or are boring–it doesn’t matter, it all works for the exercise.
The idea is to stretch your own definition of what kind of person meets the definition of an acceptable person. As an example, personally, the biggest challenge I have is watching people with helpful power withhold it for personal reasons that have little to do with expanding the entire tribe.
I find it difficult watching an executive allow his staff to be abused; watching a wealthy person not take action to improve the world; watching someone be grotesquely self-centered, things like that. I’m mostly upset that they steal the joy of connection that goes with helping others. They’re stealing from themselves.
So to challenge my own judgments, I went out and found an example that proves my definition is one dimensional. You do the same. Take the type of person you don’t like, and then find a person who meets that description that you do like. Like I said, easy, and in a way quite the challenge. Find your type. Genuinely accept someone from that group into your group. That’s it. Because that will be a lot.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.