How to Achieve Personal Growth and Balance IV - expanding the heart
The power of love
“To love is the greatest thing in life; it is very important to talk about love, to feel it, to nourish it, to treasure it, otherwise it will soon be dissipated, for the world is very brutal. If while you are young you don't feel love, if you don't look with love at people, at animals, at flowers, when you grow up you find that your life is empty; you will be very lonely, and the dark shadows of fear will follow you always. But the moment you have in your heart this extraordinary thing called love and feel the depth, the delight, the ecstasy of it, you will discover that for you the world is transformed.” - Yogananda
If you have no sympathy for the troubles of others
You are not worthy to be called by the name of "man."
This is the area of the heart, of love. To find fulfilment in this area takes service, empathy and synergy. This is the more public area of our journey of personal growth, this is where we come into direct and immediate contact with our fellows – lovers, children, co-workers and others. In South Africa we have a saying in the Nguni languages (one of the groups of Bantu languages spoken in most of sub-Saharan Africa, a group including isiXhosa, isiZulu, Siswati): umntu ngumuntu ngabantu – a person is a person through other people. We cannot be a person in isolation. Our humanness is dependent on our contact and interaction with others. This is the essence of the African philosophy of Ubuntu, sometimes called African Humanism.
Key aspects of this area are service, empathy and synergy.
“Everything we do, even sleeping in our bedroom alone with the lights off, affects the whole universe. When we really see this, our whole life has to change. To realize who or what we are is to realize that we are this One Body. The moment we realize this, everything in the One Body is realized. Then we see how much there is to do because our perspective, initially restricted to the self, is now unrestricted.” - from Bernie Glassman, Infinite Circle, Teachings in Zen (2002).
Perhaps it is in the light of this oneness of everything that we can understand one of the difficult sayings of Jesus: “Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors; only so can you be children of your heavenly Father, who makes his sun to rise on good and bad alike, and sends the rain on the honest and the dishonest. If you love only those who love you, what reward can you expect?” – Jesus in Matthew 5: 44 – 46 (NEB).
Of course it is easy to say “love your enemies” but how does one love, never mind your enemies – even those close to you? I think that love is expressed in many different ways, and the ways I want to discuss in the context of personal growth are empathy and synergy. Empathy and synergy are two ways of serving our fellows – two ways of fulfilling the Zen Bodhisattva Precepts, especially the Three Pure Precepts: cease from evil, do good and do good for others.
A story from Bernie Glassman’s book Infinite Circle:
A Chinese poet once asked a Zen teacher, “What is the most important thing in Buddhism?” The teacher replied, “Cease from evil and do good.” The poet said, “Even a three-year-old child can repeat those words.” The teacher replied, “Yes, even a three-year-old child can repeat those words; but an eighty-year-old person still finds it hard to do what they say.”
Empathy is a value stance, a way of being and communicating in the world in relation to others. It is the readiness to see the world or any situation from another person’s point of view. In Covey’s Seven Habits book it is called Habit 5: seek first to understand, then to be understood. Covey states that “Communication is the most important skill in life.” And how we communicate is critical to our growth as people.
Empathy was defined by renowned psychologist Heinz Kohut as "the capacity to think and feel oneself into the inner life of another person.” So it is an effort of the imagination.
Making the effort to understand the other before insisting on being understood ourselves is the key. Covey again: “We’re filled with our own rightness, our own autobiography. We want to be understood. Our conversations become collective monologues.”
To let go of our rightness is a risky, difficult thing to do. Not taking the risk is adding another risk – the risk that we will not grow, will not reach our full potential, will not become who we would like, in our deepest being, to be. To let go of our rightness is to risk that the other person might be right, and very often we don’t want to take that risk, because we are so invested in our own rightness.
Another risk of empathy is that we might be changed by the experience and not be the person we thought we were any more. This can be a very scary thought.
Empathy involves a deep listening to the other person, a listening for their meaning, their understanding of what is going on. It means allowing our view of reality to be challenged so that we stop shouting at each other across barricades and really start to listen for understanding. No easy task.
“Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency. Man is a social being.” – the Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
This is Covey’s Habit 6. Synergy is defined in Wikipedia as “the term used to describe a situation where the final outcome of a system is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Part of the excitement and energy of synergy comes from the interaction and interplay between differences. “And the key to valuing those differences,” writes Covey, “is to realize that all people see the world, not as it is, but as they are.”
This valuing of differences and acting on the differences means that a third way has to be found – not “my” way or “your” way but “our” way. It means that the relationships between people are more important than their views on issues. That respect for others is a key value. This is Ubuntu again – I am because you are.
This Hub is part of a five-part series on balance and growth.
The other four Hubs can be found here:
- How to Achieve Personal Growth and Balance I - the fire within
A look at what contributes to personal growth and balance on our journey through life. This Hub is the first of a five-part series that looks a some personal growth books and techniques that can help us on our path of self-improvement
- How to Achieve Personal Growth and Balance II - living in our bodies
Part two of a five-part series on achieving balance and personal growth
- How to Achieve Personal Growth and Balance III - the life of the mind
Part Three of a five-part series on Personal Growth. Looking at growing the life of the mind through reading, visualising, planning and writing
- How to Achieve Personal Growth and Balance V - the life of the spirit
Part Five of this five-part series on personal growth looks at the importance of values, study and meditation.
The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.
© Tony McGregor 2010