12/06/2011 03:09 pm ET Updated Feb 05, 2012

Forgive the 1%

The 1% is a meme for a type of behavior, not a fixed group of people. 1% behaviors promote

short-term self-benefit at the expense of harming others. When I scam a nation with fraudulent

loans that put millions of people into poverty for my personal benefit, my behavior is the 1%.

When I decide to punch a few riot police to blow off some steam, my behavior is still the 1%. It

doesn't matter if I own more than half the wealth or none of it.

We all act in our own self-interest at times, sometimes at the expense of other people or life,

and some actions do more damage than others. But, separate from the actions themselves or

the magnitude of their impact, there is a person inside that deserves unconditional dignity

and compassion. Offer compassion for the person and at the same time do not shy away from

condemning the actions. Offering compassion becomes more and more of a challenge the closer

you get to that most destructive 1% (or .00001%) kind of behavior, but then it is even more


The Dalai Lama mentions this in an interview with Paul Ekman:

Dalai Lama:

Where action is concerned, you have to oppose. You have to stop; you have to try

to stop. Even use a bit harsh [of a] method. You know? But, as far as [the] actor is concerned,

you should not develop negative feelings and should keep a more compassionate attitude. When I

make a mistake...I have to confess.

It is critical to consider that as a behavior, the 1% is not restricted to just the wealthy or those

in power. We are all susceptible to 1% behavior and we all deserve forgiveness despite the

condemnation we may face for our actions. Having compassion for a person also does not

mean acquiescing in the face of oppression. On the contrary, it means challenging authority and

condemning harmful actions, vigorously and relentlessly if needed. Let that condemnation be the

fire that spreads through every occupy camp and disempowered and desperate mind in the world.

At the same time, create a safe environment where the actors can be so vulnerable as to openly

confess of their actions and try behaviors that are more adaptive. This feels radical and even

impossible in the moment, with emotions and tension swelling. But it can be done and has been

done, and the resulting change is profound for all involved.

Stress and tension are normal, and short-term stress can actually promote adaptation and change.

However, the long-term stress and anxiety that emerges for both perpetrators and victims of

1% behaviors can have destructive effects on the brain. These include a reduction in brain size, prolonged impaired

decision-making, and a bias towards negative emotions (chronic stress is also linked with immune system impairment,

de-mineralization of bone tissue, atherosclerosis, and obesity.

To live

with chronic stress while also growing up in a culture that emphasizes scarcity and cut-throat

competition limits our ability to adapt and change, leading to the perpetuation of 1% behaviors.

Even worse, it scares me when we threaten and outcast a specific group of people acting out 1%

behaviors who also have a lot of power and influence. If a mob cornered you with your back to

the wall and you had massive power, a lot of fear, and very little rationality in that moment, how

would you react? Let's not find out.

If the 1% of behaviors (in everyone) got us into this mess, we can practice the behaviors to

get us out. Under the right conditions, the brain grows new cells continuously (neurogenesis),

allowing for changes at a cellular level (neural plasticity) that lead to changes in behavior.

Curiosity, openness, acceptance, and attention to the present moment (i.e., mindfulness) have been repeatedly linked with

increased cell growth and neural plasticity along with a reduction in depression, anxiety, pain, and physical


Coupling mindfulness with non-violent communication and other such practices will help to

create communities that are strong enough to handle the most afraid and destructive behaviors

when they arise. Then, when any one of us engage in 1% behavior we can be invited to change

by a supportive, understanding society. There is still a place for discipline in this equation, and it

probably starts with self-discipline so that we do not reflect back the malignant behaviors we are

condemning in the first place.

Maybe the next time you find yourself (or someone else) acting in a 1% way, use it as a chance

to try something new. See the behavior separate from the person, make a request instead of an

accusation, forgive and invite to change. These are HARD things to do. Especially when they

are needed the most. But the global uprising happening right now is bringing with it exactly the

opportunity to walk right into a challenge so grand.