11/23/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

How One Person Can Change The World

"To cover all the earth with sheets of hide
Where could such amounts of skin be found?
But simply wrap some leather round your feet
And it's as if the whole earth has been covered"

The simple message in this poem written in the early part of the 8th century by Shantideva is that we each have the capacity to change the world if act in ways that benefit it.

If we act from negative emotions of greed, hatred or ignorance, we hurt ourselves and others; if we act from intentions of kindness, love, and compassion, we help ourselves and others.

The real challenge we each face - day in and day out - is in checking the source of our actions. Do they arise from negative emotions without our knowledge (or worse, with our awareness)? Meditation, talk therapy, journal writing, talking with friends and strangers are all ways of detecting the source of our actions, they are all ways to learn about ourselves if we are willing to look. Often we don't want to do so because seeing envy, greed or ignorance within us is uncomfortable (to say the least) and we all prefer comfort.

(As an exercise, make a list of people that bring you discomfort and people that bring you comfort - see what those on each list have in common. The discomfort list may help you see some of the negative emotions to which you are most prone).

It's pretty easy to detect the negative emotions of others. Look how many political pundits have deciphered our candidate's emotions by their body mannerisms and words of anger, frustration, and deceit. It really doesn't take much to detect it in others but it takes a lot of courage and compassion to see it in oneself.

Compassion is necessary because in the process of such detection, without compassion can emerge more negative thoughts and feelings (criticism, guilt, and shame). With kindness toward yourself and knowledge that every human being harbors negative emotions and ignorance (it is part of human nature), it may be possible to

'wrap some leather around our feet' and experience the world as a kinder place overall.

With the election less than 2 weeks away and the mound of negative campaigning, it may be a perfect time to hone ones skills of detection - outside and within.