Like apes or wolves or ants, humans are cooperative creatures. Living and working alone are challenging things that can few can do throughout their lives, and if they do they’ll generally pay a big price. Even people who say they live without others needed others to even exist.
You can’t (currently) be born without parents (and even without those you’d need scientists). If all some guy in the bush has is a log cabin and an axe, he needed both the inventor of the axe and he would have needed to have seen someone else’s cabin to imagine one so he could build it. And even he will likely hit the local store when he needs some salt or tools. We’re all living on the backs of all of the other generations before us.
Our desire to be part of the safe and well-fed is ancient and natural. Anything else threaten death, hence the power of potential banishment and shunning that was noted in yesterday’s meditation. People naturally focus on being valuable enough and well-liked enough to maintain the security of the tribe. It’s like your brain’s primary directive, which is why you find being rejected so painful. It’s like someone saying, “We don’t think your genes needs to go any further than this.”
We can all easily think of the times it hurt to be rejected, but what about the times we did the hurting? What about group criticisms people joined in on on social media? What about a group of schoolgirls actually cooperating to cut another person out? What about having your support for one group lead you to even verbally attack the member of another group? What about you rejecting someone because someone more established in your group stopped dating them? Or what about even how you would have handled someone leaving the company you worked for?
Socially it’s a very common, modern experience to exclude someone if they get laid off or fired. Being fired can feel to others like it’s different because it’s “deserved,” but then we all have to ask ourselves how perfect we actually are. Getting fired for a genuine mistake is like being fired for being human. Certainly some things are blatant and need action, but sometimes it’s just that a decent manager and a good employee clash. And in the case of the layoff, generally the immediate boss and the person being laid off would rather not have participated at all.
Even though it’s in an office and everyone’s dressed nice, to your brain–which evolved for that other tribal, cooperative world–these are all examples of being shunned. We all have our family group, our friend group, and our work group. These are tribes we travel between and they often overlap.
Being removed from any of these groups will be among the most painful experiences of a person’s life. If you were aware, you’d know that from your own experience. Any time it happened to you it was a very particular kind of pain and you literally need to go through Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance). It’s extremely painful. A company I once worked for laid someone off and that lead very quickly to a particularly ugly suicide and no one in the company was the same afterward.
In today’s meditation, find an example of where your personal awkwardness about how to behave lead you to passively shun someone. Own it. Don’t make excuses, just make the connection between your choice and their pain. Connect the two in a direct fashion. This won’t be a pleasant meditation, but it will increase your empathy and natural self-centeredness.
If you do this meditation successfully–if you feel that pain and own that responsibility for your part in it–then it will be one of the fastest results you’ll ever get from a meditation. Because if you do it right, then your brain will understand that idea so well that you are very unlikely to go through the next similar experience without very naturally experiencing lower levels of ego and much greater levels of empathy, which will in turn drive you to more active compassion.
This is the kind of thing that would turn you into that one person that won’t be awkward with the former employee. You may not be able to get them back into your group, but your actions alone could change how hurt that person feels and how much they trust the world going forward. This is no small meditation. In small steps, it is these ones about our common human relations, that are the most valuable meditations you can do. For you and for them.
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.