“One of the side effects of rugged individualism is the decline in compassion,” explains Anugraha in cleveland.com.
We characterize societies as “first world” or “third world” based on their level of economic development. Countries are in a race to increase their gross domestic product (GDP). But as policy experts Ted Halstead and Clifford Cobb point out, GDP is a spurious measure of human well-being.
If I were to smoke 20 packs of cigarettes every day, spend thousands on my lung cancer treatment, get divorced every other week and hire expensive attorneys, never visit my kids but pay professionals to care for them, I would raise the GDP of the United States more than any average responsible citizen!
Increased GDP is not a measure of levels of human well-being, but just an indicator of increased levels of consumption.
The Indian mystic Osho reminds us that the development and flowering of human consciousness is a true measure of progress and of how truly civilized a society is.
One form of poverty that may be on the rise in America is the poverty of compassion. We are morphing into a society that dismisses a soft heart as weakness, authenticity and transparency as naivete, and writes off caring for the collective as socialism.
Individualism even leads us to being very hard on ourselves. We have a very strong internal condemner inside us. As Osho said, if we sit down just relaxing in the sun, within a few minutes, we will have an internal voice calling us lazy.
In being hard on ourselves, we become hard on our loved ones – including our own children. And we continue to languish in a workaholic web we have ourselves spun.
This crisis of compassion has consequences for public policy. Our schools become proponents of a ruthless form of standardized testing, our organizations are machines in which persons are replaceable parts, our healthcare is focused more on profits than on care, our social safety net erodes because those who need it “must surely deserve their hardships,” our prisons focus more on punishment than on rehabilitation – and so goes the systemic vicious cycle.
Tackling this national crisis of compassion through public policy is daunting. Our culture extolls individual responsibility. We expect people to first take care of their own interests.
One of the side effects of rugged individualism is the decline in compassion. We become brainwashed by our own favorite ideologies, and we will even go to our graves arguing and fighting – as our struggle to overcome the national crisis of COVID-19 continues.
To alleviate this poverty of compassion, Osho suggested a three-step process. First, look closely into your own life with eyes of love and start becoming more compassionate toward yourself. Comfort yourself for the hardships you have been through and the pain you may still be carrying.
Secondly, turn to the people you love most and invite them to share with you what has been hard for them, where they have not felt appreciated or understood. Listen from a place of compassion.
Thirdly, place yourself in the shoes of strangers, reminding yourself that every person in this world suffers deeply, emotionally, financially and/or physically. That is the nature of human existence, made harder by the heartless world we have built.
In awakening to the pain of complete strangers, you will suddenly feel the rising tide of compassion within. That revolution in compassion, as Osho suggested, will make us more human.