Healing Difficult Emotions, Overcoming Self-loathing and Anxiety, Politics and Love

You, Society, and the Good Life: Two Different Views of Success

Let’s take a minute to think about the culture we live in. There are many good things about U.S. culture and cultures like it, but one of the negative aspects of our culture is that it often encourages a hyper-individualistic view of ourselves and the world. For instance, the fast-paced, high-stakes, competitive nature of our economic system can give us the idea that we are isolated individuals–all on our own–and that we must be better, faster, smarter than everyone else just to survive.

This can make us feel like we are living a bumper car life, alone in our own car, bumping and crashing into everyone else to get somewhere.

That’s one view of success.

This view can create a lot of isolation, loneliness, anxiety, exhaustion, and depression.

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This view is so common that often it seems like the only view of the world.

But it isn’t.

There is a much older, wiser view of the world. It suggests that we are all deeply connected to one another, that we are never alone, and that our well-being is bound up in one another. This view tells us that our purpose in life is not to figure out how to beat everyone in the game of life. Rather, our goal is to figure out how to flourish together so that we can reach our full human potential and become wiser, more powerful, and loving together.

That’s another view of success.

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This idea is present in all major religions and many of the most influential philosophical and ethical systems in the world. I love studying religion and philosophy, so it is temping to rhapsodize at length about how this idea shows up in these various systems.

Instead of rhapsodizing, I would like to explore a metaphor that I think illustrates this idea of human connection well.

Natural Ecosystems

You are probably familiar with the concept of an ecosystem. If not, here’s a helpful definition from National Geographic: An ecosystem is a geographic area where plants, animals, and other organisms, as well as weather and landscapes, work together to form a bubble of life.

For instance, there are desert ecosystems, forest ecosystems, ocean ecosystems. These are large ecosystems, but there are smaller ecosystems like tide pools, ponds, individual trees, and gardens. (Again, you can read more about this here.)

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Ecosystems are interesting because the organisms and life forms within an ecosystem are really diverse and often radically different. Nevertheless, all of the organisms in an ecosystem are intertwined and interdependent. Each organism has a particular good it brings. As the organisms flourishes, it helps everything else in the ecosystem to flourish as well.

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I got a little carried away drawing and painting different ecosystems today. Just go with it.

On the other hand, when one part of an ecosystem grows diseased or goes extinct, the entire ecosystem suffers. For instance, bees pollinate plants, which nourish other plants and animals, which in turn nourish other organisms.

This beautiful watercolor is by my friend Jodi and used with her permission. You should go check out her blog,The Creative Life In Between. It’s beautiful.

If we don’t have bees to pollinate plants, plants wither and die, the ecosystem loses food and material for shelter, and that creates havoc in an ecosystem.

Everything in a natural ecosystem is connected to everything else and belongs.

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The Human Ecosystem

And it is not too much of a stretch to say that all of us together are a part of the human ecosystem. We could consider the human race to be one large ecosystem, but there are also smaller human ecosystems like families, communities, schools, churches, etc.

And just like a natural ecosystems, everyone in the human ecosystem is connected and belongs. I know this may seem like an extreme claim to make, but let me give an example to explain what I mean.

Your life is intricately intertwined with the lives of people around you. You are a husband or wife or partner or son or daughter or friend or neighbor or worker or customer or driver. You likely have dozens if not hundreds of interactions, both small and large, with people every day. In every contact you make with people, you encourage their thriving (by showing compassion, kindness, and respect) or declining (by showing disregard, cruelty, and apathy).

When people thrive, they naturally contribute to other people’s lives in a way that helps them thrive. On the other hand, when people are treated with disregard, cruelty, and apathy, they begin to decline. And then they often treat other people cruelly, and this causes those other people to decline.

And our patterns of mutual thriving or declining as a society eventually shape our media, our social customs, and the institutions we develop like schools, churches, hospitals, and law and science institutions. All of these social constructions further reinforce habits of thriving or declining.

We truly thrive or decline together.

People together

Here are just two interesting facts that support such a hypothesis.

Several current research studies indicate that both positive and negative emotions are contagious and can spread in large groups of people. You can actually catch an emotional cold or an emotional high from someone. You can read more about that here.

Given this, it is not too surprising to discover that significant inequality in nations decreases the well-being of everyone in that nation. (You can read more about this here.) So, for example, if a country has extremes of poverty and wealth (rather than wealth being more evenly distributed in a country), this causes everyone in the country to decline.

This makes sense. Poverty is strongly correlated to depression, hopelessness, and despair. And hoarding wealth while other people lack the basic goods to survive is correlated to greed, lack of compassion, and neglect. If emotions are contagious, then countries with extremes of wealth and poverty are continually spreading painful, contagious emotions.

And these are just two facts that support the idea that we are all connected and thrive or decline together.

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What This Means for You

All of these ideas hold some powerful implications for me and for you and our value in the world. All of us struggle sometimes to feel valuable and purposeful. When we feel this way, it is hard for us to thrive. One of the goals of my blog is to help us thrive together. So, here are six wishes I have for you, Friend. They are basic truths about you and your place in the world that I hope contribute to your thriving.

One: I wish for you to feel peaceful and powerful in your body.

Our body is one of the closest and most important things to us, and it is integral to who we are. Because of this, our view of ourselves and the world is inevitably conditioned by the way we perceive our body.

When we feel unpowerful and worthless in our body, we often feel unpowerful and worthless in the world, and it harder for us to share our unique goodness. And when we feel unpowerful and worthless, we are often more susceptible to people controlling us. There are a lot of people who profit in multiple ways by making us feel like there is something wrong with our body and that it is bad, ugly, and cannot be trusted.

So, today, I want you to know that you do not have to meet societal standards of body perfection to be worthy, and your body is wise, powerful, and good no matter what because it is your vessel and a record of your unique life. You and your body are a team and can figure anything out together that you need to.

Two: I wish you to know you are valuable.

I want you to know that you are extraordinary because you are completely rare and unique. No one has lived your exact life before, in your exact body, with your exact life circumstances. You know what it is like to be brave in a way no one else does. You know what it is like to survive trauma in a way that no one else does. You know what it is like to suffer loss in a way that no one else does. You have a sense of humor like no one else has. You contain wisdom about the world that no one else has.

Because of this, you have something to teach us about how to make the world more humane, fair, and kind for people like you. This is the good you bring into the world. The more we listen to each other, the better we understand how to create a good world together.

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Three: I wish for you to know you are capable.

If you are like me, and everyone else in the world, you have days when you feel incapable, stuck, and powerless. I want to remind you that you don’t need to have all the answers figured out right now.

You have a mind, body, and emotions that contain a lot of wisdom. They are pointing you in the direction of kindness, compassion, and respect, if you listen. These are seeds of goodness in you. The more you listen and cultivate these seeds, the more skillfully you live in all areas of your life.

Your capability is not something you have to feel all at once and right now. It was never meant to be. It is something that is meant to be watered and nurtured every day like a plant. You are meant to grow and flourish.

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Four: I wish for you to know you are connected to all of us.

I know you feel lonely sometimes. We all do sometimes. The uniqueness that makes each of us valuable can also make us feel lonely at times. Since no one has ever lived our unique life before, no one understands exactly what it means to be us. That can feel lonely.

I want you to know that other people in the world have the same seeds of goodness in them that you have in you. When we cultivate the seeds of kindness, compassion, and respect in ourselves, this helps us connect with the seeds of goodness in others. Even when you feel lonely, please know that kindness, compassion, and respect are reaching out to you, just as you reach out to them. You will find each other.

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Five: I wish for you to know you matter.

Because of your unique mind, body, spirit, you have a particular good you bring to the human ecosystem, as you participate in it with kindness, compassion, respect.  When you share this good with those around you, you nurture them and help them flourish. This is why you matter.

Six: I wish for you to know you are essential.

But you not only matter, you are essential. You have a good that no one else has, and when you bring it into the world, you strengthen and enliven the environments you are in. When you you struggle to express your good, your corner of the world is less bright, less meaningful, and less alive. We aren’t as strong without you and your thriving.

This does mean you need to feel guilty when you struggle to thrive.  We all struggle to thrive sometimes. It just means that you are essential, and you are a gift to the world.

A Final Wish

My final wish is that treat yourself with kindness, compassion, and respect today, Friend. And please treat others this way, too. This is one of the best ways to help the human ecosystem thrive.

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*****

If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on social media.

If you would like to know more about kindness, compassion, and respect, you might like these posts:

Compassion: A Way Forward Through Suffering

Healing Our Hearts Through Self-Directed Kindness.

How to Treat People With Dignity Even When They are Mean and Stupid

11 thoughts on “You, Society, and the Good Life: Two Different Views of Success”

  1. I signed up recently and am LOVING your posts. They resonate so strongly and are beautifully put.

    And I LOVE your drawings! They are whimsical and delightful and fun. Do you think you might offer an online course someday?

    THANK YOU! Elaine (Kingston, ON Canada)

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    1. Elaine, thank you so much for this sweet comment! I am so pleased to have you here. And thank you for your lovely comments on my posts and paintings. I love to bring more play, whimsy, and meaning into people’s lives.

      Your question about my drawings is so kind. I am actually a self-taught artist, and I never thought about offering an online drawing/painting course. I don’t have any plans to do that right now, but I will keep this idea in mind. It never occurred to me, so thanks for giving me something to think about.

  2. Love your post! I’ve always felt aware of a strong connection to nature and I see humans as part of the natural ecosystem. So that means (to me) that we’re all part of the same thing, linked to everyone and everything that’s alive and damage to any part of that affects the whole. I reckon we humans need to look out for each other and the rest of life around us – to encourage everyone and everything to flourish.

    1. Ann, I agree with you so much! I taught an environmental ethics class a few semesters ago, and that really got me thinking about our connection to nature and to each other. And then my walking got me thinking even more about it!

  3. Another beautiful post. I love the way you make us think in meaningful ways. The older I get, the more connected I feel with nature and other people and history and our world!

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