The gifts of memory and language are double-edged. On one hand, we can recall valuable times from our past. And we can communicate –to a degree. But due to differing life experiences and qualities, a far smaller degree than we realize. One of the most confusing concepts we learn and communicate is about ‘winning,’ or being a ‘success,’ versus ‘losing,’ or being a ‘failure.’
In reality, every life carries its own associated price. Poor people worry about things like keeping their kids fed. But the worry is no less genuine when it’s a rich person needing to worry about their kids being kidnapped. Either way, the child is in very real potential jeopardy. It’s that elemental experience their parents share.
The examples above are totally different, but the emotional experience is very similar. And those shared and difficult experiences will connect them if they notice it. If not, they can feel like they have nothing in common all.
It’s only a lack of consideration and empathy that leads nice people to treat other nice people quite badly. We just don’t know them well enough. And too often, we use pretty blunt tools to try to assess other people. Things like thinking they are ‘successes’ or ‘failures.’
What we forget is that winning carries a price just like losing. Success costs just as much as failure. In fact, sometimes losing and failure add up to a more enjoyable life experience than winning and success. Even more importantly, many times the people who are viewed as less successful are only that way because they chose to use much of their life energy to assist others in obtaining their successes.
In the end, the quality of a person’s character is not contained only in what they accomplished. It is also shaped by what they accommodated. What success did we sacrifice for others? What opportunities did we forgo to help another rather than ourselves?
Why don’t we weigh our performance in life more by the metrics that measure our decency, our patience, our tolerance and our compassion? What is fame and fortune if someone can have it and still have a bankrupt personal life that leads to depression or suicide?
If asked, almost every mature person would agree that we’d rather be remembered as a poor person who was a compassionate citizen with good character, than to be remembered only for being rich, famous or that others thought we were beautiful. And yet most of us put more time into being rich or popular than we do toward being decent or kind.
Others views of us do not change our internal life. Those thoughts happen in the minds of others and are irrelevant and confusing to our mind. They tend to create worry over future judgments that are less appreciative. On the contrary, our character is alive inside of us. It is a clear, sharp impulse that gives us confidence and courage.
At the end of the day, when we look back on our lives, we will start to recognize that our displays of character increase our sense of capability and worth, whereas our times spent in ego will be seen as times where we were lost, insecure, and in need of a life lesson.
Both are legitimate states of being. But it is much healthier for us to be caring for others than worrying about ourselves. So as we go about our day, it’s worth forgoing the question, ‘what would make me happy,’ in favour of of one that asks, ‘what would make someone else happy?‘ Because if we want our life to be enjoyable and to have value, then it won’t be because we were selfish. It will be because we have been willing to make sacrifices to connect us deeply with others through our displays of presence, compassion, and courage.
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.