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Does A Recession Make Us Less Compassionate?

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When we have money we tend to build a bigger house and then we have to put a fence around it to keep people out, and then we have to become wary of anyone who wants to be our friend. The minute we have something we become very guarded and protective, and reluctant to share.

Does success make us any more likely to care? Does buying more make us happier or more generous? Or does it just make us want more? As Ed Begley Jr. says in our new book, Be the Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World (published Nov 3, 2009): "If stuff made us happy there would be nothing but happy people living in Bell Air and unhappy people living in Fiji where they have nothing, but I have been to Fiji and there are plenty of happy people there. I have never seen a hearse with a luggage rack on top!"

We were having tea with our good friend Marc Barasch. He is the author of many books, but his latest, The Compassionate Life, got us questioning what influence a recession has on our natural ability to be compassionate and caring about others. Does a failing economy make us less compassionate? Or can it actually make us more generous, kind and caring?

In response to our questioning, Marc asked, "Perhaps the first question we have to ask is, are people really compassionate in a so-called successful economy? Does affluence make us any kinder or more caring?"

We tend to think that rich people have a cushier life, but Jungian psychologist Bernice Hill has identified four wounds of wealth, or four challenges that come from having a lot of money. They are:

1. Burdens of Expectation. People with money are the often subject of envy and jealousy. They are also expected to support charities and donate frequently. Which can result in them asking if it is them or their money that is wanted?

2. Isolation. For fear of being taken advantage of, the wealthy may question what their friendships are based on. This can lead to a real sense of isolation and lack of trust, and the tendency to only socialize with others who also have money.

3. Unhealthy Family Dynamics. Money easily destroys relationships and families, as family members fight for the lion's share.

4. Crisis of Identity. Wealthy people often have difficulties with issues of self-worth, guilt, and meaninglessness.

These four wounds show us how complicated and limiting wealth can be. Compassion tends to arise from a sense of vulnerability, but success often comes with a sense of invulnerability. There is the belief that, if we are well-off materially, then God must be favoring us, we must be virtuous and moral; whereas if we are poor, then God has abandoned us, we must have done something wrong, we are obviously immoral and flawed.

Yet when we have nothing to lose we are not guarded or fearful of being taken advantage of, or being ripped off. When we have traveled in India, Deb has always been impressed that even the poorest of the poor have fresh flowers in their hair, they are welcoming and sharing of what they have, guests get the best dishes and food, even the best bed. This is far more hospitable than our wealthy friends who, for instance, when asked if we could stay, say they have a dinner party coming up and so it would be too inconvenient.

Compassion also arises out of a sense of vulnerability and shared humanity--the realization that we are all connected to everyone and everything at all times, that we are not isolated or separate. What happens to one happens to all. We can take off our armor and allow ourselves to be touched and to feel the undefended heart. There are no barriers between us.

If we relate to the recession with fear, then it will close us down further. If we relate to difficulties with an open heart, then we will enter into a culture of greater sharing and compassion. Our economy is built on greed and a fear of scarcity. But we can transcend this by reaching out to each other in acts of fearless kindness and caring.

Do you have any stories to share about compassion in difficult times? Do leave us a comment below. You can receive notice of our blogs every Thursday by checking Become a Fan at the top.

Ed and Deb Shapiro's new book, BE THE CHANGE, How Meditation Can Transform You And The World, Forewords by the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman, with contributors such as Marianne Williamson, astronaut Edgar Mitchell, Michael Beckwith, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jane Fonda, Jack Kornfield, Byron Katie, Ed Begley, Ellen Burstyn, Dean Ornish, Russell Bishop, Gangaji and others, will be published November 3rd 2009 by Sterling Ethos.

Deb is the author of the award-winning book, YOUR BODY SPEAKS YOUR MIND. Ed and Deb are the authors of over 15 books, and lead meditation retreats and workshops. They are corporate consultants, and the creators of Chillout daily inspirational text messages on Sprint cell phones. See:

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