If there is one thing that is true of life, it is that we all suffer. Whether rich or poor, whether white or person of color, whether President or average citizen, we all suffer. Many people think that the rich and powerful don’t suffer because they have so much, “all that one could possibly imagine,” and yet as a spiritual person I know they do. You know this as well, I’m sure.
Why is it that we all suffer? And what are the consequences?
We all suffer for two reasons: our basic needs and the world we live in. When a child is born, he has four basic needs: food, freedom from pain, warmth/nurturing, and physical security. These are the four irreducible needs of all human beings.
In particular, a baby’s need for nurturing, for unconditional love, is almost without limit. Birth, being thrust out of the womb, has to be a scary experience. When an animal is born, it is typically licked all over by the mother and is always next to the mother’s warmth. When a baby is born, it is slapped on the behind, washed by a stranger, rolled up in a blanket and given to its mother to be held and fed before being put in a basinet by itself. So from the moment of its birth, a baby finds that its needs are not met, and so the first seeds of insecurity are sown.
This pattern continues during the baby’s formative first years. It’s not that parents don’t love their new child and shower it with attention; it’s that the needs of the baby go beyond what most parents are able to give. Whether it’s how they were raised, whether it’s the demands of work or home, whether it’s having their own problems to worry about … it’s just the way it is.
And as the baby becomes a young child, proceeds through adolescence, and attains adulthood, the seed of insecurity that formed at birth grows to become a huge tumor inside each of us. Why? The tumor grows because it is fed by much of what we experience in life … in the home, in school, at work, and in the media. We are either told or learn that we are clearly lacking in some way. Or if we are praised, we know how easy it is to fall from grace, and so the successful often have even greater insecurities than the average person because they have more to lose.
And so we have ended up with a world full of insecure people. We each compensate for it, mask it in many ways, but the insecurity is still there. What are the consequences? In a word, it means that human relations, including the relationships between nations, are fraught with conflict.
All the fighting, all the abuse, all the hatred, all the discrimination … whether in the home, the country, or the world … is a function of man’s insecurity. A Buddhist monk once said to me that if someone or something pushes your buttons, what agitates you is a direct expression of someone’s suffering, their insecurity, and your button is a result of your own insecurity.
So how should this knowledge be applied? How should it impact how we deal with our fellow humans, whether it’s a family member, a colleague, someone with an opposing point of view, or even an enemy?
First, it means that all persons should be treated with respect. That’s really all that most people want.
Now, many people would say, “Why should I respect him when he doesn’t show me respect?” A very understandable question, but one which doesn’t get us anywhere and continues the destructive cycle. Someone has to start first. And the bigger, the more powerful a person is, the more it is his responsibility to take the first step. After showing respect, he or she will usually be rewarded by being shown respect in return. A win-win situation.
What also helps us have respect and compassion for ourselves and all people is the knowledge that we developed into the persons we are because of all the learned experiences of life, much of which is negative. We were not born this way; and this is not our true self. To put it in modern techno language, we are programmed the way we are because of the inputs we have received. That’s why Buddhists and mystics of all religions say that there is no such thing as a bad person, just people who do bad things.
Second, understanding how we came to have certain beliefs and opinions gives us the ability to respect the fact that other people come to their opinions honestly as well. There is no one right opinion. That understanding changes the dynamics of human interaction. For example, I used to be a Type A person. I was always right and everyone else was wrong. No more. As a result, I treat others with respect; my interactions are not combative and are more productive.
Finally, wanting only the best for ourselves, our family, our fellow citizens, and our country, and being aware of the ill will cause by “normal” interactions, we seek to rise above the fray and, looking down from above, act and respond with wisdom rather than emotion. We know we cannot make good judgments when we are consumed by our emotions and attitudes.
And we have been so consumed because we are used to taking things very personally. But we learn not to because we come to know that people’s actions, including our own, are a function of deep-seated insecurities. It really has nothing to do with us. And that allows us to rise above the fray and not contribute to conflict.
And so Mr. President-elect, as you lead this great country for the next four years, I hope that you are able to have compassion for yourself and all others, that you are able to respect everyone’s human dignity and equality, and that for the good of our country you rise above the fray and exercise wisdom.