One of the key determinants of physical and emotional health — and therefore, happiness itself — is our sense of belonging, our connection with our community.
Yet most of us go through our lives as distinctly separate individuals. Siblings compete with one another (as do spouses). We begin our lives in school focused on individual achievement (or failure). In sports, we compete with an “us versus them” mindset.
Competition spreads to every part of adult life. We compete for jobs to earn more and get ahead. We compete for our homes. We fight traffic in our daily commutes. What is traffic? Other people.
We compete as we compare ourselves with others and we judge others — just as we know others are judging us — by the clothes we wear, the cars we drive and the symbolic prestige of particular mundane items of utility — phones, shoes, purses and watches.
When we follow this mainstream way of thinking, the natural conclusion is we all lose. By the end of this life, you will lose all you have gained. Everything you have built will one day be gone, and in a few generations, your name will be forgotten. What’s the point of it all?
How you tell your personal story — how you see yourself and how you relate to other people and the rest of the world — impacts your emotional well being and your capacity for enduring happiness.
The inescapable truth is this: you are not a separate, independent individual, you are a global citizen interdependent with every other person on this planet. Your well being is dependent on the well being of others.
The “me against the world” and “us versus them” story disconnects us from others and dehumanizes ‘them’ and they become objects in the way or to be used. In reality, we have more in common with every other being on this planet than we realize.
We each have hopes and dreams, pain and pleasure, joys and sorrows. We experience the same range of emotions and we are all subject to illness, misfortune, aging and death. We can unconsciously adopt maladaptive core beliefs and get stuck in narrowed points of view, yet we each have the capacity to change and grow.
This recognition can awaken compassion. We share our vulnerability — and we share our responsibility.
The big problems of our society and the world will never be solved by people — and countries — looking out for themselves. As long as we see one another as separate and competing individuals, we will continue to see abuse, crime, homelessness, hunger, terrorism and war.
When more of us realize our interdependence and connection with the global community and all life on this planet, we will see the positive evolution of humanity and life on Earth. It begins with you. Together let us be the change we wish to see.
On Friday, April 7 at 7 p.m., I’ll be speaking at the Vancouver Convention Centre East, 999 Canada Place, as part of the Tapestry Foundation for Health Care’s public presentation series, Dialogue on Aging. My topic: Going Beyond Old Stories — Exploring, Engaging and Evolving into Our Positive Potentials.
I’ll talk about exploring your personal story and the stories of others, engaging in the understanding and unfolding of your life story, and how our understanding of self, others and life can evolve as we transform our selves and world towards positive potentials. See more at tapestryfoundation.ca.
Davidicus Wong is a family physician and his Healthwise columns appear regularly in this paper. For more on achieving your positive potential in health, see his website at davidicuswong.wordpress.com.