As the New Year begins, let's resolve to be more mindful for ourselves and others.
By Ron Schultz
Part of the Creating Good Work series
A new year, a fresh start to getting something done. Traditionally, New Year’s resolutions are broken as quickly as we lose the paper on which they were written. However, being resolved to act for the benefit of others, resolute in our dedication to making things better, well, breaking a social resolution like that is not just another failed weight loss program or an unused gym membership. In this case, making a commitment to social action is about more than simply keeping my word to myself. It’s about the wellbeing of others.
One could always ask, why should I care? Don’t I have enough to do just keeping my own life in line? Shouldn’t I come first?
Living day to day in the world of questions like those, we find ourselves often begrudgingly fulfilling obligations at work and home. At the end of the day, what are we left with? A tired body and a dissatisfied mind. That doesn’t have to be the model. But resolving to live differently isn’t the same as actually living differently.
It is a matter of choice.
For me, my number one resolution for 2014 is to help others create thousands of social businesses. In doing so, they will improve the social-wellbeing and economic fabric of the communities in which they operate.
But what about those who believe that all business is social? On one level, they are absolutely right. If a business doesn’t serve its constituency, its society of customers, it goes out of business. Should business serve a greater society than simply those who buy its product or service?
Getting Beyond Crises
Last month, I wrote about moving from social obligation to social identity. That we don’t just do good because we should. We do good because that’s who we are. We often see this innate connection to doing good emerge at the point of disaster. But then, once the calamity has been addressed, we tend to slip back, returning to doing only what we feel obliged to do, or perhaps compelled by that great binding principle we call guilt. What is it about crises that brings out this greater sense of who we are, free from guilt?
If we are to get beyond crises as a driver for our being human, perhaps a greater resolution for 2014 would be to help others realize who they really are. Of course, there’s no escaping the fact that to do so means I have to begin realizing who I am and then modeling the behavior of that realization as an example for others.
That seems like a lot to ask of a person, especially when it’s up to me to make that happen. The fact remains, if my resolution is to benefit others so they can realize who they are, it would probably be best to at least show that I’m making some sort of movement in that direction as well. Now that I think about this, maybe a new diet would be easier.
Let Mindfulness Be Your Guide
Unfortunately, the easy path is not one that benefits anyone but me. I admit I made a decision a long time ago to try and figure out who I was and perhaps surprisingly, in attempting to do so, it brought me face-to-face with others.
That may sound counter-intuitive but it’s not. The means I chose was an ancient one, thousands of years old. It was to simply sit down and look at how my mind worked. Today, this practice, often referred to as mindfulness or meditation, is a growing trend in corporations, psychology, and just about anywhere else one looks.
Police departments are looking to become more mindful in their duties. Children are learning to do so in their classrooms. And thousands of corporate employees are enrolling in classes offered by their corporation that teach them how to sit down and look at themselves, because they’ve been told it will help them be more innovative and creative.
They’re right in doing so, too. The simple act of sitting down and looking at how the mind works is a critical step in being able to help others for all the right reasons.
The Focus Challenge
It also sounds like it should be an easy thing to do. Ever since we were little kids and we began running around and talking, our parents have been telling us to sit down and shut up. If we’d listened to our parents, one would think we’d have gotten pretty good at it by now. But we have also gotten really good at being distracted by a world filled with enticements and entertainments that continually lure us to do something more interesting and fun than just sitting there and being quiet.
Here’s a challenge: try going 10 minutes without distracting yourself. In doing so, you discover how difficult it is. If you try it enough times, you begin to realize how hard it is for others to do so, too. And then something rather remarkable happens, in realizing how difficult it is for others, you start realizing, that just like you, others lead distracted lives that keep them from looking at who they we are.
Looking at Me, Looking at You
Which, in turn, explains why all of us leading distracted lives are so dissatisfied and disappointed so often, because we have no sense of who we are. And when we realize that just like me, all these other people around me are dissatisfied and disappointed, what emerges is a sense of compassion for what others are experiencing. Just like me. Just like you. And suddenly, being human is about what others are experiencing.
And when we sit and look more and longer at the distraction, dissatisfaction and disappointment in our own minds, that compassion for what others are experiencing also increases. And when we finally act on that compassion toward others, say, by being of benefit to others, the damnedest thing happens; we become less dissatisfied and disappointed with our own lives.
So my New Year’s social resolution this year is to continue looking at me, and continually reach out to benefit others.
Because, just like me, we don’t need to feel dissatisfied or disappointed with the lives we lead. And by sitting down and looking at how our minds work, we can truly benefit others, not out of some sense of guilt or obligation, but because it’s who we are.
Happy New Year. Now, go create good work.