Our common global enemy is collective human suffering.
As I write these thoughts, I am recovering from a scathing one-star review of my previous book. Last night when I held my four-year-old close in my lap, she provided sobering feedback: “Daddy, your teeth are so yellow!” My most recent talk wasn’t as well received as I had expected. I could use a little pat on the back at this moment.
I don’t have a secure sense of myself. My concept of self depends on my perception of how others perceive me. I get inflated or deflated depending on the amount of air the world pumps into my ego balloon. I am biased to perceive the most recent and most negative feedback as the most potent. My relationship with the self is thus ever changing, and that colors and tracks my relationship with others.
This dynamicity makes life interesting, but it saps tremendous energy. The grazing cattle of negative perceptions rapidly devour the tiny sapling of connection that I develop with people. I am thus unable to form strong roots that could feed the stem, branches, and leaves of a community around me. In this state, my life becomes barren and lonely.
I need to shed the habit of constantly reevaluating relationships. I shouldn’t anchor my relationships in biased perceptions, flimsy and superficial as they often are. I should anchor my connections in deeper meaning.
The meaning found in collective gains or success can unite us. But such meaning is vulnerable, because the much-sought-after gains that defined me yesterday stop being meaningful once acquired. The gains can also be lost in the blink of an eye. I have read or heard about people losing billions of dollars in a day and about stellar reputations built over a lifetime melting with one imprudent tweet. I need to look elsewhere for a secure meaning.
I believe the one meaning that can bring us all together, which will never pall, is the collective meaning of decreasing suffering. You and I can join in an effort to minimize suffering and maximize happiness for our planet’s children. That is our primary evolutionary responsibility. Relationships developed to serve such a meaning will be invulnerable to minor disagreements and negative perceptions.
The first step to decrease suffering is to recognize it in others. When you are stuck in your pain and I am stuck in mine, we are trapped in our pain. But when you look at my pain and I look at yours, with an intention to soothe, then even though we are still looking at pain, we heal rather than hurt.
Let’s join in to serve the common goal of eradicating suffering. Therein lies the hope of us working and walking together for the rest of our lives.
May a circle of love surround you; may the thread of a common meaning hold this circle together.
@AmitSoodMD (on Twitter)