If you who have been following these posts over the past year and a half, you will not be surprised to see the range of comments that show up after each article. Some are welcoming of the perspectives, some write of how these kinds of ideas have helped them through some difficulty or another, and some question in a sincere manner, seeking to understand or challenge a perspective. And then there are those who seem to delight in distorting what has been written, claim that holding a positive focus is just "snake oil," and suggest that these approaches to life are part of a fundamental problem in American life.
My favorites are the folks who like to rise up on an anonymous soap box and preach against either the ideas or the authors or both, even going so far as to accuse those of us who offer this work for free on the Huffington Post as somehow ripping people off in what one commenter calls a "pay to play paradigm."
I have tried playing with the critics and their criticisms, sometimes with teasing titles (Why Positive Thinking Just Doesn't Work or Are You Intelligent or Just Intellectual); sometimes, I have tried taking on the critics by calling out the inconsistencies, distortions or even the apparent hypocrisy.
This week, I decided to try a more direct approach: my fundamental proposition is that once the basics are handled (food, water, shelter, safety), what most of us long for in life is the experience of being loved and the opportunity to be loving.
Having worked in the arena of personal and professional fulfillment most of my life, I was struck with a rather simple and yet profound awareness as I was reading The Shack this past week. While I have worked to establish loving and caring in my own life and shared ideas about this with others over the past 35 years or so, I was struck by the fact that I haven't really addressed this most important aspect of living in these articles - or, at least not directly.
In particular, this passage from The Shack (page 99) awakened me to yet another level of awareness.
(Awakening is an interesting notion, by the way: many who work with awareness will use the term. How about this for a concept: To awaken, you must have been asleep. However, to have been asleep, it would seem that you must have previously been awake. Hmmm. Much of this work can be characterized as what I call the process of "becoming more of who you already are." A bit much for a simple blog post, but I put it forward anyway - perhaps the notion will resonate for you). Anyway, the passage:
Consider our little friend here. . . . Most birds were created to fly. Being grounded for them is a limitation within their ability to fly, not the other way around. . . . You, on the other hand, were created to be loved. So for you to live as if you were unloved is a limitation, not the other way around.
Now that's really quite profound. Indeed, it's pretty hard to look at a nursery full of new born babies, and pick out the ones that don't want to be loved, or who don't want to be loving for that matter.
Again, it's beyond the scope of a simple blog post to fully develop this theme, so perhaps you will grant me the benefit of a simple assertion: most people would prefer to experience loving and to be loved over just about any other qualitative experience in life.
My work with thousands of people over the years suggests that just about every human communication comes from a context of loving and caring, however twisted that expression might seem to some.
Here's a simple example: have you ever been angry? Of course you have. Have you ever been angry about something you don't care about?
Caution! This could be a trick question for some. If you do not care, then you just don't care. In the absence of caring, it's pretty hard to get angry. Why? Because you just don't care.
With that in mind, have you ever encountered someone who was boiling over angry about something? Can you imagine bumping into someone who was boiling over angry and approaching them, rather than backing off? How about approaching the angry person with something like this: "I didn't realize you cared so much." How wonderful! How can I help?
In my own life, I have experienced considerable anger. Sometimes I have been angry about how someone treated me, sometimes about how someone else ignored me, and sometimes about how someone treated someone else. My life began to transform when I discovered just how twisted my own angry approach to experiencing life had become.
Back in the 1960's and 1970's, I was involved in all manner of protests - civil rights, peace, equal access, etc. One day, on a protest line, I wound up getting hit by a tear gas canister. As I picked it up and started to throw it back, I suddenly, and inexplicably, found myself looking back at myself, as though I were a spectator to my own activity. And then I heard myself screaming, "why don't you a**holes love us?"
As wave after wave of awareness broke over me, I saw the contradiction of my life to that point: my message was love and peace, and my strategy was to yell, scream and throw things.
Admittedly, I am far from living my life as lovingly as I might like, and yet the awareness that my life is about loving and caring has remained with me all these years. Sometimes, I live out the loving and caring directly, sometimes I still revert to the angry expressions, and sometimes I just seem to go numb.
How about you? Anything like this ever happen to you? Do you ever get twisted up in your knickers over something you care deeply about? If so, have you ever found yourself losing the very thing you were seeking because of your approach - kind of like the yell, scream and throw things approach to a more loving and peaceful life?
My spiritual mentor once shared a profound, if someone crude, simile with me. I'll clean it up a bit here, but you'll get the idea. He said, "Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity."
Well there you go. Or at least, there I go. Somehow, the idea that I need to struggle through life, fighting to produce the peace that I prefer, stays with me - a key life lesson if ever there were one. The lovely inspiration of The Shack enabled me to see another aspect of myself, the part that can deny or shut off the very experience I am seeking. Perhaps you do something similar?
That's a bit about what's behind these articles. I write because I think the ideas are not only worth sharing, but actually fundamental to living a more loving, caring and peaceful life. I think they are also fundamental to making a real, meaningful difference in the world.
When I get into my altruistic self, I imagine a world characterized by loving and caring, one in which we each understood that the other needs the same things that we do, and that we could each rise to the need in others by recognizing that we each contribute to the well being of one another.
(If that last sentence begs for more development, I understand. Perhaps a simple idea here will suffice for the moment and we can work on it in greater depth in future posts: if I am experiencing anger, upset and judgment, for example, what am I contributing to the world? To other people? Even to my friends and family? If, instead, I come with loving, caring and an aura of peace, am I not contributing something of value to the world, to other people, and to my friends and family.)
Here's a fundamental question that might be interesting to explore: would you like to be loved?
If so, have you considered being more loving?
A good friend, Terry Tillman, once shared with me another bit of profound wisdom, this time having to do with the old question about whether the ends justify the means. Terry framed the question in a very different context when he said something to the effect, "if you truly understood the ends, you would realize that the ends are the means as well."
Wow! If the ends are loving and caring, how about being more loving and caring? If the ends are about peace and harmony, how about being more peaceful and harmonious?
Even if no one else reciprocates, at least each day that I am even a little bit more loving and caring in my approach, a bit more peaceful and harmonious, then that day produces more of what I truly seek: loving and caring, peace and harmony.
Have a loving, caring and peace-filled day.
I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.
If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.
Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.