11/22/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Living with Meaning: What Are You Reflecting?

We've all heard the saying, "What goes around, comes around." Many of us would probably even add that this simple-sounding saying actually and accurately reflects what is--for all human beings, whether they happen to believe it or not--a fact of life. In other words, it is part of the human condition; a "karmic" force, if you will, that guides our very existence.

During the current global economic crisis and unfolding political drama, I suggest that it is an especially meaningful time to reflect upon the essence of humanity, specifically our own "human-ness" and the human-ness of others (including those with whom we may disagree and/or towards whom we may hold anger, resentment, and distrust). In this connection, there is a humanistic concept advanced in South Africa called "Ubuntu" that offers us a new mindset when facing the pressing challenges in today's world. The full expression in Zulu of this concept is UBUNTU NGUMUNTU NGABANTU, translated roughly into English as, "A person is only a person through other persons."

Importantly, Ubuntu is not about relationships per se; rather, it is about human-ness and how only human beings can establish the human-ness of others. In effect, our human-ness can only be truly expressed as a "reflection" of others, which also means that we must be able to extend beyond ourselves (also known as "self-transcendence," a principle that I will describe in a future post in the Living with Meaning conversation) so that we can fulfill or realize more of ourselves.

To gain an appreciation for the reflective basis of self-transcendence, let me now share with you the following story, called "The Echo," that appears in my book, Prisoners of Our Thoughts:

A son and his father are walking in the mountains. Suddenly, the son falls, hurts himself, and screams: "AAAhhhhhhhhhhh!!!" To his surprise, he hears a voice repeating, somewhere in the mountains: "AAAhhhhhhhhhhh!!!" Curious, he yells out: "Who are you?" He receives the answer: "Who are you?" And then he screams to the mountain: "I admire you!" The voice answers: "I admire you!" Angered at the response, he screams: "Coward!" He receives the answer: "Coward!" He looks to his father and asks: "What's going on?" The father smiles and says: "My son, pay attention." Again, the man screams: "You are a champion!" The voice answers: "You are a champion!" The boy is surprised, but does not understand. Then the father explains: "People call this ECHO, but really this is LIFE. It gives you back everything you say or do. Our life is simply a reflection of our actions. If you want more love in the world, create more love in your heart. If you want more competency in your team, improve your own competency. This relationship applies to everything, in all aspects of life. Life will give you back everything you have given to it. Your life is not a coincidence. It's a reflection of you.

Now, during this critical time in history, I ask you to stop and think for a moment. Are you paying attention and listening to your Echo? From what life seems to be calling out to you, what are you calling out to life?

I invite you to share your thoughts and experiences...ask a question, share an opinion. Remember, let's continue to use this forum to learn from and support each other so that we may all live with meaning! And stay tuned in the weeks ahead for more principles and inspirational stories for discovering meaning in your life and work!

You can find out more about Dr. Alex Pattakos in his HuffPost Bio and at Contact Alex at: