The Four Rs

Three RsMarx had a good idea – in principle.  A utopian society where human beings would be equals and each individual would have what he or she needs to live.  Oppression and power struggles would not be a way of life.  Yes, I have perhaps oversimplified the Marxian ideal, but this ideal is one that we have longed for since our species first saw the light of day.

Governments have tried to legislate equality through welfare reform, the Civil Rights Act, communism, socialism, and other acts of bureaucracy.  Although communism and socialism proved to be unsustainable forms of government in their purest forms (perhaps because of the human hunger for power), they were noble answers to severe forms of dictatorship.  The problem is that history has proven that change has to come from the individual in a “bottom-up” approach instead of “top-down.”  In other words, compassion cannot be legislated.

With our need for instant gratification and quick fixes, it is no wonder that we have tried to use a macro approach to problems of the heart.  Merely being told that we must be compassionate and humane and putting in place systems and structures to enforce this mindset is not effective.  If individual actions and perceptions are the root cause of our inability to have a society of peace and equality, then we must start with the individual when seeking a solution.

When we are hungry, we have numerous choices, assuming we have the means to meet our needs.  We can go to the drive thru of the nearest fast food chain and have our hunger satiated immediately.  We can go to a sit-down restaurant and, after a short wait, have our bellies filled.  We can also take the more patient approach of buying groceries and preparing a meal by ourselves.  This is the least expedient of the three options, but is undoubtedly the most healthy.  But, there is yet another option.  As human beings who have been around the block a few times and lived in our own skin for a while, we know that we will get hungry.  It happens at least three times a day, every day, without fail.  We know that there is a “cost” for convenience, so we could also take the approach of planting seeds in a garden, nourishing them, and watching them grow.  We can then harvest that produce and use it as ingredients for our meals as we prepare them.  This is the approach that we need to take with humankind.

In schools, our youth are taught the “three Rs”: reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.  I would propose that we teach a fourth R: radical compassion.  Yes, it is true that you cannot force individuals to emote a certain feeling such as compassion, but we can teach them, through mindfulness, the mindset that leads to being a humane human being.  In Ohio and other states mindfulness is being taught in elementary schools to reduce bullying and increase respect and empathy.  Mindfulness leads to awareness.  Awareness of one another and our interconnectedness in relationship leads to the ability to feel not only sympathy, but also empathy for one another.  As a natural byproduct,  feelings of compassion will arise that lead to kind words and action followed by the eradication of bullying, selfishness, and violence.

This all may sound well and good albeit laden with extreme idealism, but I believe it is possible.  We teach our youth subjects in school so that they can get jobs and become contributors to society.  We hope for them to have successful careers and make us proud.  Why shouldn’t we teach them to love one another and build a society whose God is not money, but love?  We used to teach morals and ethics in our schools, but these were done away with as being deemed “too religious.”  Ethics and morals are good, but they seem to be tied more to “thou shalt not” than “because I love you.”  Mindfulness is not and should not be tied to religion.  It supersedes religion and dogma and leads to a true “kind-dom,” a veritable utopia.  Instead of teaching dogma and scaring our young into doing what’s right, we should go deeper and let what’s right become second nature.

During a recent hospital orientation, one of the speakers was a man who started at the hospital 40 years ago as a teenager washing “dishes” in the lab.  He is now the director of consumer relations and it is no wonder as his passion for his job is catching.  He said that he believes firmly in, not the golden rule of doing unto others as you would have done to yourself, but doing unto others as if you were them.  If we follow the traditional golden rule we end up imposing our values on others.  If we have empathy and compassion, we love them where they are at and act accordingly.

We are hungry for peace.  We long for a world where love is the rule and injustice is unconceivable.  We want the serenity of knowing that our youth will grow to an old age and do right by one another.  I’m confident that such a world is possible.  I’m hopeful that such a hunger can be satiated.  But, I’m sure that it will not be found at the drive thru of government legislation nor the sit-down restaurant of religious dogma.  Instead it will be reaped from the garden of mindfulness and humaneness.  Perhaps this is the real Garden of Eden where humans are born to their full potential.  Planting season is at hand and the seeds are in the storehouse.  It will take time and generations so planting needs to begin now.  In the words of Whitney Houston: Let us teach our children well and let them lead the way.

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One Response to “The Four Rs”

  1. John Lovestrand Says:

    This is beautifully written, and optimistically encouraged.

    I am half-way through your recent gift to me a Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching”, and a bit earlier today asked Tristan to read the first (quoted from the Fourth Mindfulness Training) paragraph in the Right Speech chapter. And then I asked him his thoughts afterward.

    Last year he and I did likewise with a passage or two from Hanh’s “Peace with Every Breadth”.

    On Martin Luther King Day each year, coming up soon again this 2015, my sons and I have read aloud to each other from among Dr. King’s writings — last year his letter from Birmingham jail.

    We have done likewise on Lincoln’s holiday — most notably his Gettysburg address.

    All of which is to note, albeit anecdotal, that we parents hopefully can plant a seed or two along with our kids, in the hope that their own store of consciousness will lead them, and thereby all of us, toward a more compassionate future… .

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