A recent discussion thread on LinkedIn asked:
Have we gone overboard w/ focus on ‘happiness’? Several new studies suggest focusing on ‘being happy’ makes people LESS happy, and less fulfilled in a deeper sense. What’s the right balance?
To which I replied with my little parable on how to hit a golf ball. (The point is that, to be most likely to hit the ball into the hole, you need to focus on the ball not the hole at the moment you hit it.)
This prompted a message to me:
Would/will Global Peace reign if every human knew this fact?
After all, “Love” is “selfless” and if we want the “best/limitless” for ourselves then we should “treat” others the “same.”
The ‘how do you hit a golf ball’ story is values-neutral. Knowing how to hit the ball would certainly be of use to people trying to foster global peace but, I daresay, Hitler was very good at ‘hitting the ball’.
What’s needed for peace is an attitude of ‘make the other person more important than you‘, but even that has to be applied in an benign context.
What is also needed is an acceptance that we are fallible and will not always succeed in making the other person more important than us so tolerance, a refusal to judge and a willingness to forgive—ourselves as well as others—are also needed.
And, also, I’m sure that human beings are born with a predisposition to be aggressive (in order to survive)*. That has to be channelled, through upbringing, into something positive whilst not repressing or denying it (and therefore making the individual live a lie).
I’m not sure that love is, or can be, selfless. Love is, after all, an emotion, a state of mind perhaps. Only people can attempt to be selfless. Love certainly thrives on an attitude of making the loved one more important than ourselves, but what really marks it out (the thing that people call selflessness) is that, in love, we do not have any expectation, or make any demand on the other that they will meet our needs. As Chuck Spezzano says, ‘If it hurts, it isn’t love’. The pain we all feel when we think we are in love is the pain of those needs not being met (yet again).
If we cultivate an approach that we’re going to be responsible for meeting our own needs (because ultimately we’re the only person that can), then two people in any relationship can enter a state of interdependence, of partnership, in which real success can be achieved.
The mistake is to interpret ‘being responsible for meeting our own needs’ as meaning cutting oneself off from other people. But this is a stance of independence and is of little value to other people. If we believed we should make the other person more important than us, then we wouldn’t inflict this tantrum of separation on them.
*It’s likely that humans are born with lots of predispositions, like language learning, as Steven Pinker shows in his excellent book, The language instinct.