To soften our view of others

Jesus urged his followers to learn to look at other adults as they might at children. Few things can more quickly transform our sense of a person's character than picturing him or her as a child; from this perspective, we are better able to express the sympathy and generosity that we all but naturally display towards the young, whom we tend to describe as naughty rather than bad, cheeky rather than arrogant. This is the same sort of softening we may feel towards anyone whom we see sleeping: with eyes closed and features relaxed and defenceless, a sleeper invites a gentle regard that in itself is almost love—so much so, in fact, that it can be unsettling to gaze at length at a stranger asleep beside us on a train or plane. That unmasked face seems to prompt us towards an intimacy that calls into question the foundations of civilised indifference on which ordinary communal relations rest. But there is no such thing as a stranger, a Christian would say; there is only the impression of strangeness, born out of a failure to acknowledge that others share both our needs and our weaknesses.


Robert Thurman says we can find enlightenment through the interconnectedness brought to us by computers

Photo by Edward Burtynsky

Professor Robert Thurman gave an amazing TED lecture years ago that I recently rewatched. The topic: We can be Buddhas. We can find enlightenment. But one piece of it caught my eye. This quote:

"...all the interconnectedness of all the computers and everything, it's the forging of a mass awareness, of where everybody can really know everything that's going on everywhere in the planet."

Who is to say the time we spend in front of a computer does not promote deeper, real relationships? We are more connected with people than ever. And future generations will be even more so. I get that there's a general sentiment that spending more time on Facebook or Twitter isn't valuable "real people time." This sentiment is wrong.

I can take a small step into other people's minds and experiences when I dip into my activity streams. I found out minutes ago that an old friend of mine may become vegan because of an indie movie he saw. That's a tiny slice but it lets me step out of my own world. Ideas, experiences, slices of life, sent around the world and shared instantaneously for anyone who happens to be listening. And listen they do -- in the dozens, the hundreds, the thousands, the millions. 

Chris Sacca often gets asked how to get more followers for themselves, complaining of having only a couple hundred. He has millions. In the past, he's replied: Have you ever had to give a speech to a wedding reception? Say of 100 people, even. Most people would be scared to death. But that's what you can do for no cost at all to you. You can speak to a hundred people at any time at your every whim. That's powerful. 

Robert Thurman goes on though. There are consequences to this transparency. This new and possibly limitless interconnectedness. 

And therefore it will become intolerable -- what compassion is, is where it will become intolerable for us, totally intolerable that we sit here in comfort and in pleasure and enjoying the life of the mind or whatever it is, and there are people who are absolutely riddled with disease and they cannot have a bite of food and they have no place, or they're being brutalized by some terrible person and so forth. It just becomes intolerable. With all of us knowing everything, we're kind of forced by technology to become Buddhas or something, to become enlightened.


  Because our egocentric perception -- from the Buddha's point of view, misperception -- is that all we are is what is inside our skin. And it's inside and outside, self and other, and other is all very different. And everyone here is unfortunately carrying that habitual perception, a little bit, right? You know, someone sitting next to you in a seat -- that's OK because you're in a theater, but if you were sitting on a park bench and someone came up and sat that close to you, you'd freak out. What do they want from me? Like, who's that? And so you wouldn't sit that close to another person because of your notion that it's you versus the universe -- that's all Buddha discovered. Because that cosmic basic idea that it is us all alone, each of us, and everyone else is different, then that puts us in an impossible situation, doesn't it? Who is it who's going to get enough attention from the world? Who's going to get enough out of the world? Who's not going to be overrun by an infinite number of other beings -- if you're different from all the other beings?

  So where compassion comes is where you surprisingly discover you lose yourself in some way: through art, through meditation, through understanding, through knowledge actually, knowing that you have no such boundary, knowing your interconnectedness with other beings. You can experience yourself as the other beings when you see through the delusion of being separated from them. When you do that, you're forced to feel what they feel. 

  But apparently, this is a strange paradox of life. When you're no longer locked in yourself, and as the wisdom, or the intelligence, or the scientific knowledge of the nature of the world, that enables you to let your mind spread out, and empathize, and enhance the basic human ability of empathizing, and realizing that you are the other being, somehow by that opening, you can see the deeper nature of life, and you can, you get away from this terrible iron circle of I, me, me, mine, like the Beatles used to sing.

Mirror neurons strike again. Empathy. We must step out of ourselves, our ego, our own tiny worlds. Through that, we find enlightenment. 

It is an amazing time to be alive, to be able to participate in some small part of this... this next evolutionary step in human society. Of enlightened, interconnected experience.