“Set aside personal interest and act for the common good.”
This phrase, one of many provocative thoughts from the various texts I have read this week, has occupied my mind more than others.
“Set aside personal interest?”
That’s the problem right there. For most of our lives, we learn to fend for ourselves, to build careers, to attain a secure and cozy lifestyle, to build savings accounts that will sustain us in old age. All of this is self-centered.
Of course, self-preservation is a deeply rooted and essential survival instinct, but our education model expands it into a far-reaching and often distorted fabric. It expands it to something outside of ourselves, something that isolates us in the midst of community and neighbors, instead of weaving it into a huge, warm blanket to share. Outside of tragedies and occasional, shared trauma, our survival instinct is mostly connected to some ideal outcome or future.
An image comes to mind: We stand in a crowd, at a community picnic, and though we honestly try to mingle, our gaze reaches above the sea of faces to some distant horizon. We savor the moment, yet our inner eye is turned to the future.
In addition to this, we often define “common good” as something we embrace on the side, when immediate responsibilities (real and perceived) allow; when there is time, money or an emergency. Very few of us master the art of placing common good at the center of our lives. Those who do stand out in the crowd. They see as far as the horizon and beyond, yet they are fully present, radiant, human and humane. Perhaps even fearless.
How do we set aside personal interest on a daily basis in a world that would have us so dedicated to personal success and safety; so tied to the next paycheck; so concerned with ensuring our own comfort and longevity; so afraid of sickness, death and, perhaps worst of all, real and imagined enemies?
Maybe we only attain this in small increments, whenever we are willing to take risks on behalf of others. Obviously, we cannot all quit our jobs to go work for some charitable organization, but we can certainly make room for a more charitable outlook in all that we do.
Then, the guiding question becomes: “How do I make my work and my life an act of charity?”
The answer is far from simple. It requires we become a bit more creative and a lot less competitive.
The task is enormous and overwhelming. However, it would seem there is one small, easy thing we can do that may very well provide the tipping point: Become kindhearted, in every moment.
Ours is an aggressive lifestyle. We chase after time, money, success, recognition; even leisure. What would it mean to seek all of this with a deliberately kinder heart?
We’d be standing in a crowd, at that community picnic, suddenly losing interest in the distant horizon and shifting our gaze back to distinct faces… and suddenly being able to listen. Funny thing is, after a while, all faces might turn to the horizon after all, gazing in the same direction, in unison.
We all dream of grand vacations, perhaps on a distant beach, listening to nothing but the waves and seagulls. We long for silence, not realizing that it is not merely the outside noise we wish to lose, but our own inner dialogue.
Maybe true, restful silence is this: To truly listen for the first time. Then, we are on the same wavelength. Of the same mind. Of the same kind. Of kindness. All of us bear a message, in spite of ourselves. Deliberate kindness is the tuning fork.
On my table: Heart Messengers on their way home (5.5″).