“Real change will take place when individuals transform themselves guided by the values that lie at the core of all human ethical systems, scientific findings, and common sense.”
–the Dalai Lama
If you could encourage people to make just one small change to transform the world, what would you ask them to do? Daniel Goleman (author of Emotional Intelligence) had the privilege to discuss this with the Dalai Lama – and to write a new book A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World.
The book lays out two compelling principles the Dalai Lama sees as necessary for a better world: People have a moral obligation to each other, and, improving the world requires action – not just intent.
I recently spoke with Daniel Goleman about the connection between compassion and emotional intelligence.
Josh: What does it mean to be a force for good?
Dan: The book articulates, from the Dalai Lama’s point of view, how each of us could act in ways that cumulatively would create a force that would make more visible the forces for good. He points out that if you read the news only, the news of the day is largely very negative. There are solutions, but we all have to act, and each of us can act in a different way, but if we act in concert, if we act together it’ll create a force for good.
Try this experiment for example. Imagine Lady Justice holding the scale with two sides. On one scale you put all of the acts of negativity, cruelty and humanity in a given day, and on the other side you put all the acts of kindness, of thoughtfulness, of consideration, of civility, of emotional intelligence. The compassionate side far outweighs the negativity.
Josh: Certainly in my day-to-day life I see a lot more compassion and civility than I do cruelty, just talking to people walking down the street, sitting in the subway, but it’s definitely not what’s in the news.
Dan: I think that the news leads to very downbeat pessimistic outlook, kind of a learned helplessness. The Dalai Lama is trying to shake people out of that — to wake us up and get us to take action. He acknowledges that the problems we face as a species are vast, and he names the environment, the growing gap between rich and poor, corruption and collusion in the public sphere, wars and so on. These are big problems, but there are solutions. We all have to act, and each of us can act in a different way, but if we act in concert, if we act together, it will create a force for good. It will make it clear that we’re moving in the right direction. He says, “It’s not enough to espouse compassion, you have to act on it to make it real.”
Josh: Emotionally I feel that truth of what you’re saying and what he’s saying and yet, thinking of those big problems, I don’t feel like I have a lot of power.
Dan: He says one thing that’s very helpful is to take a long view of history and to see the forces that play in the world.
For example, the crisis of climate change started with the industrial revolution and the unintended consequence of human activity. Over many years, a focus on the things we make and buy are eroding and degrading systems that support life and the planet. It’s taken centuries to get to this point. It’s accelerated the last 50 years, but it began long ago. If we’re going to turn it around, it’s going to take a while to reverse that. We have to rethink everything, we have to reinvent everything. What he’s saying I think is very important. Don’t give up. And he says, “Act even if you won’t see the consequence in your life.” Think of this as a century-long game.
Josh: You’d said before that there’s something in our brain that finds this approach difficult because we prioritize the immediate. There’s an emotional valiance and salience in our brain for what’s happening today that, for most of us, is stronger than the emotional salience for this potential and this vision in this long term.
Dan: Yes, and I think it’s very important, Josh, to think about how to use a kind of mental jujitsu because the brain actually is designed to care about immediate results – not long-term consequence. Unfortunately this is taking over the way a lot of companies are strategizing these days, looking for quick results that may not pay off in the long-term. It takes a lot of emotional intelligence, I think, to pause, to reflect, to think about someone other than just me; to consider the group, the future, our children, their children, future generations.
More: Listen to Dan reading an excerpt about how compassion isn’t just for others — it helps the person being compassionate too.
Dan: It was joy to spend several hours in intimate conversation with the Dalai Lama. He really has an extraordinary presence. He treats everyone as a person, equally. That’s one way his compassion manifests. He says basically, we’re the same human being behind all the surfaces differences, whatever, race, nationality, status, position in the organization. We’re all the same being. It’s a fundamental shift in awareness.
Josh: And you can really feel that connectedness.
Dan: Yes, he embodies it, and when you’re around it, you feel that he’s really connecting to you.
Josh: And if we could each really feel that connectedness, it would change the way we evaluate, the way we think about everything in our lives.
In the Force for Good Film, your team did a beautiful job illustrating this shift – how a moment of feeling connected transforms our actions for good:
Dan: The filmmakers did an incredible job of showing this idea of compassion in our daily lives, it makes me cry every time I see it.
The Dalai Lama encourages us to set a goal extending our compassion, our caring, our concern, to care for everyone on the planet without exception. That may seem like quite a far reach. On the other hand, if you think about the people in your life who are most nourishing, they have that quality. The Dalai Lama is saying: take that quality and cultivate it, and keep expanding it.
Josh: In the Six Seconds Model we talk about Give Yourself. Know yourself is being self-aware… Choose yourself is managing your reactions… and Give yourself is creating self-direction. In Give Yourself we talk about increasing empathy (expanding your concern) and pursing noble goals (putting purpose into action).
Dan: I think that’s very profound, Josh. The way the Dalai Lama is saying it, “These are the meaningful goals in the world, let’s heal the earth, let’s help those in need, let’s clear up corruption and collusion.” Those are big goals. He says, “Everyone has his or her own point of leverage, everyone has a range of good they can do, do it.” The important thing is to act now, even if we’re not going to see the product during our lifetime. This is a long-term game, but it starts now.
It feels good to do meaningful, positive work like that. Your mind expands, as the Dalai Lama says, when you think of other people when you consider their needs.
Interesting research from Richard Davidson at Wisconsin: when people actively think of compassion, of loving kindness, of helping other people, the circuitry for pleasure and positive emotion lights up, it actually, literally feels good to be compassionate. If you help anyone in real need, you feel good while you’re doing it. I don’t think that’s an accident. I think people are wired that way to encourage us to be good, to do good.
Josh: Thanks, Dan, and I encourage our readers to learn more at joinaforce4good.org
About the book – A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World (Amazon)
For more than half a century, in such books as The Art of Happiness and The Dalai Lama’s Little Book of Inner Peace, the Dalai Lama has guided us along the path to compassion and taught us how to improve our inner lives. In A Force for Good, with the help of his longtime friend Daniel Goleman, the New York Times bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence, the Dalai Lama explains how to turn our compassionate energy outward. This revelatory and inspiring work provides a singular vision for transforming the world in practical and positive ways.
About the author
Daniel Goleman is an internationally known psychologist who lectures frequently to professional groups, business audiences, and on college campuses. As a science journalist Goleman reported on the brain and behavioral sciences for The New York Times for many years. His 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence was on The New York Times bestseller list for a year-and-a-half, with more than 5,000,000 copies in print worldwide in 40 languages, and has been a best seller in many countries. Apart from his books on emotional intelligence, Goleman has written books on topics including self-deception, creativity, transparency, meditation, social and emotional learning, ecoliteracy and the ecological crisis. See http://www.danielgoleman.info/
Dalai Lama photo by kris krüg