05/04/2012 11:18 am ET Updated Aug 19, 2016

Be The Change You Want To See In The World

Be The Change You Want To See In The World ~ Gandhi

A few months ago I received the following Facebook message from a guy I had never met and whose photo I did not recognize:

Hi Ira,
I'd love to get together with you for coffee or something if you have time. We seem to know a lot of the same people and your spirit and space in which you operate appeals to me.

When a male animal in the wild spots another male animal they instantly go through a visceral checklist:

- Am I going to have to defend myself from him/kill him?
- Can I outrun him?
- Can I eat him?
- Can I play with him?

I noticed myself going through my own checklist of fears:

- Is he going to try to hurt me?
- Will I be able to outrun him?
- Is he going to try to embarrass me in some way?
- Is he going to try to get money from me?

I Googled him and didn't find any police reports or anything peculiar, so I was pretty sure he wasn't going to randomly kill or harm me in public. I couldn't really tell if he had any financial interest or was selling anything, but I know how to say "No, thank you" as well as "F*** off" in several languages, so I wasn't terribly worried about that angle.

But I still really didn't want to meet this guy.

Then I looked down on my desk and happened to notice the personal motto that I put on my letterhead:

"Because that's the world I want to live in."

I employ this ditty whenever my intentions are questioned after I practice a random act of kindness:

"Why did you give me your seat/meal/last dollar/jacket/parking spot?"

I smile and reply, "Because that's the world I want to live in."

I know in my heart of hearts that we're all in this together, that we have to help each other, we're all on our personal healing journeys, that competition and the illusion of scarcity is causing untold psychic trauma, and that an unexpected smile on another person's face is worth more than any other currency, so I try my best to act paradigmatically when possible. Then again, I'm the guy who writes a "thank you" note every Jan. 6 for the past 26 years to the surgeon who chose NOT to amputate my mangled leg when the femur was shattered almost beyond repair. Almost. At the end of the day every Jan. 6 I write one paragraph about what I did that day with my two legs -- rode my bike, walked to lunch, practiced yoga -- and let Doctor Rodda know that none of that would have been possible had he chosen the road more traveled on Jan. 6, 1985.

That said, I'm not going to be nominated for sainthood anytime soon and could provide you with a list of people who would say that I'm an impatient jerk with a king-size sense of entitlement. OK, got it. Own it. Trying to curb my shadow side. Greatly appreciate your frankness, continued compassion, and forgiveness while I do my best to tame this rough beast.

I scheduled a time and place to meet Mister Facebook and went about my business.

The following week I arrived at the arranged cafe and bought myself a coffee so that I could flee quickly lest he attempt to molest me or my pale wallet. We introduced ourselves and then sat and spoke about our lives and our interests for over an hour. At no time was there any weirdness or anything amiss. There was no solicitation or any business that I could discern. It was just two gentlemen pleasantly sharing their ideas and experiences. All of my preconceived suspicions and fears were for naught. At the end of our time together I thanked him sincerely for reaching out to me; we shook hands and parted ways.

When people meet eyeball-to-eyeball and are willing to let go of their fears and defense mechanisms, acceptance and genuine connections can take place. We learn to accept the perspectives of others and cease to ascribe intentionality to their actions once we actually see, hear, and feel what they intended.

At a conference on compassion I attended, when asked what the first thing he would do if he had more political power, the Dalai Lama said that he would invite all of the presidents and prime ministers in the world and their families on vacation together for two weeks with only one rule: it would be forbidden to discuss politics. The families would just get to know each other as human beings.

We're all in this together. Nobody gets out of life alive.

I'm troubled by my own suspicions and fears before meeting a fellow human being for an innocuous coffee. Lack of personal interaction obviously only leads to more fears, suppositions, judgments, prejudices, alienation, and estrangement. The imagination can be an awfully dangerous place.

I hope that all of us can be brave enough in the future to release our fears and set examples of peace, love, understanding, and authentic eyeball-to-eyeball communications and connections that others will want to emulate. If we don't, what chance does humanity have against the prejudice, fear, myopic greed, and self-interest that abounds?

For more by Ira Israel, click here.

For more on mindfulness, click here.