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January 15, 2009

Our Sense of Well-Being

The Dalai Lama

The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama


Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

If you search CompassionRise for "happiness" you will find a handful of results -- see the search feature on the upper right side of the start page. Before discussing more of the Dalai Lama's observation today, here are summaries of the three most relevant search results for "happiness."

In We Are the Makers, the Dalai Lama observed: "Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions." CompassionRise observed:

External circumstances such as more material success do not give you more happiness. Many of the most powerful and wealthy people are also famously unhappy. Happiness is something you choose -- it may be inspired by others or by your circumstances but it does not depend on them -- being happy depends on you.

In Look On the Bright Side, the Dalai Lama related of his own, personal happiness: "The fact that there is always a positive side to life is the one thing that gives me a lot of happiness. This world is not perfect. There are problems. But things like happiness and unhappiness are relative. Realizing this gives you hope." CompassionRise related:

By reaching out to others, we may find the inspiration, encouragement, or help we need, or find someone who needs our help; either can make us happy. We may share in others' happiness, or just find something to make us smile.

In Freedom and Creativity, the Dalai Lama stated: "Freedom is the real source of human happiness and creativity." CompassionRise stated:

The detachment of government from religion begun by nonreligious American founders like Thomas Jefferson also allowed for unprecedented cultural creativity, a melting pot with room for personal freedom. The separation of church and state is both derived of and fundamental to ... pursuit of happiness.

The United States' Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson to both rationalize separation from Britain and to inspire Americans to the task itself. Jefferson described what he called the "inalienable rights" of all people, and in so doing used the famous phrase, "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Today the Dalai Lama connects our personal happiness directly to how much we care for the happiness of others. During the 2008 Seeds of Compassion gathering in Seattle, the Dalai Lama said often: "The purpose of life is to be happy." From this it would follow that the happier we are, the more alive we become, or the more of our potential life we have lived. Connecting his message during Seeds of Compassion to his message today, we could say that the purpose of each life is to care for the lives of others. Our biological nature calls us to a life of service.

That is an admirable, but theoretical conclusion; we at least hope it is true, that our biology in fact calls us to care for each other. Science says this idea may be more than wishful thinking. With only basic research, we can find neuroscience in support of biological compassion.

In fact we will turn to neuroscience as written for children. The following material has been used to teach introductory and practical neuroscience to thousands of school children in the United States:

The emotional coping function is also known as the mammalian brain since it is common to all mammals whose babies are born live and completely dependent upon their mother for survival. Neuroscientists refer to this essential brain function as the limbic system. Without our emotional brain mothers would not feel an instinctive need to nurture and feed their young. Nor would babies recognize and sense that their survival depends upon staying close to their mother for protection.

[The mammalian brain] provides us with the ability to understand and sense the deepest feelings of others. This gives us the ability to feel sad when others do; or share the joy of others in a group having fun. This connection to others' feelings is what makes us want to to sacrifice ourselves for others we care about.

The emotional brain senses being more safe when we belong and have a connection with others.

Whatever your definition of "well-being," certainly safety is a part of it. It is established scientific fact that we biologically feel safer when we feel connected to others, when we feel that we belong among them. The Dalai Lama calls on us to reach out to others, to create these connections, to join others. When we gather with other people, we care about them, and when we care about them, we increase our own well-being.

January 09, 2009

Freedom and Creativity

The Dalai Lama

Freedom is the real source of human happiness and creativity. Irrespective of whether you are a believer or nonbeliever, whether Buddhist, Christian, or Jew, the important thing is to be a good human being.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

Is freedom necessary for creativity, or does freedom in fact inhibit creativity? The question is often asked personally by writers, graphic artists, musicians, and other artists. Professional creative generalists Arun Verma, Krishna Moorthy, and others debate the observation of novelist Willa Cather that there is no true freedom in art, and through the links on that page, wrestle with their own balance of freedom and creativity.

Creativity and freedom are a binary star around which all human intellectual activity orbits, not only brainstorming or the creative arts. Bruce Jilk, probably the world's most insightful educational facility designer, has worked in dozens of nations planning single room schools, entire campuses, and forming some of the most practical yet holistic theory used therefor. In this personal account and his other writing, he connects his experiences with national cultural freedom to the design of spaces meant to inspire freedom and creativity in education.

Bernard Bailyn of Harvard University reflected in 1976 on the year 1776, the first 200 years of the United States, and the emergence of modern democratic society. He showed that the de facto personal and cultural liberty enjoyed by Adam Smith, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and many others enabled them to understand, secure, and govern freedom for millions more -- see “1776: A Year of Challenge -- A World Transformed” in The Journal of Law and Economics. The strained freedom they enjoyed and their creativity in nationalizing it have led us to here and now, when the large majority of humankind enjoys democratic liberty, though still not all.

The detachment of government from religion begun by nonreligious American founders like Thomas Jefferson also allowed for unprecedented cultural creativity, a melting pot with room for personal freedom. The Dalai Lama's words today could seem like two disconnected sentences without this context: "Freedom is the real source of human happiness and creativity. Irrespective of whether you are a believer or nonbeliever, whether Buddhist, Christian, or Jew, the important thing is to be a good human being." The separation of church and state is both derived of and fundamental to governmental protection and service of personal freedom, creativity, and pursuit of happiness.

CompassionRise is itself a working balance between freedom and creativity. For every page on the site to load quickly, both technically speaking and visually or psychologically for easier reading, there is a target size for each page's data. These requirements primarily limit graphics. The creative limitation grants freedom though, too, in less effort spent preparing graphics and less effort for visitors interpreting graphics.

Another deliberate creative limitation at CompassionRise: this is a daily blog. There may be more than one article on some days, but there will be one article every day; i.e., compassion rising like the Sun. Only so much can be written in a daily article. The format might stretch as far as "essay." This limitation is also license, freedom, good reason to work things through quickly to points, draw conclusions, and exhale. Work must begin and end daily, and each day must be different from every other.

This is not to avoid depth and editors, but to avoid the combination thereof that keeps too much work behind the curtain. Writing long form is an investment which may never come to market. CompassionRise is an open invitation to conversation, not a memoir and not even a Sunday morning paper account of the week's work and weekend's events. Before the Seeds of Compassion gathering in Seattle in 2008, CompassionRise began in earnest as research for a thesis on universal, secular ethics and civil society. Almost one year later, that work was too earnest to fly the coop. To focus, limit, and constrain creativity can also be to set it free.

What is it about people that we must limit ourselves to unlimit ourselves? There is a simple answer, not sourced by scientific studies if supported by them: evolution. We have evolved in significantly more difficult circumstances than those in which we typically, modernly live. Our biological selves are primed for creativity under limitation. With creative sparks and intrepid will, our species survived and emerged from an Ice Age which killed most of what lived on Earth.

Here on our computers and devices, at home on a couch, in the office at a desk, and even while actively in competition, having it too easy bothers us, annoys us, can drive us to insanity. We are suspicious if anything seems too simple and we resent others who seem to have it easier. Having achieved what people have longed for over millions of years -- to sit idle, safe, happy, in control, and simply be entertained -- we revel briefly, then suffer boredom. Having everything is not enough.

Evolutionary theory can reveal a lot about our common motivations and abilities, and can also help engineer our improvement. One of the world's most insightful popular science writers, Alan Boyle published another thoughtful article today about evolutionary theory -- and its evolution. With his daily science blog, Alan shepherds loose knit readers whose comments are also pragmatic and entertaining. In his scientifically casual but socially serious book The Dragons of Eden -- Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence, popular scientist Carl Sagan used personal observations and evolutionary theory to derive insight on our creativity and freedom. From Dragons of Eden:

When I leave my office and get into my car, I find that, unless I make a specific effort of will, I will drive myself home. When I leave home and get into my car, unless I make a similar conscious effort, there is a part of my brain that arranges events so that I end up at my office. If I change my home or my office, after a short period of learning, the new locales supplant the old ones, and whatever brain mechanism controls such behavior has readily adapted to the new coordinates.

CompassionRise would appeal to scientific analysis and not only logical hypotheses based on scientific theory; observation is only the first step, and hypotheses only a middle step in the scientific method. For today, taking permission from Professor Sagan, we will close with a rule of thumb for freedom and creativity and a plausible idea of what in our nature may be our nemesis. Considering the creative limitations of this daily article, today's summary advice on creative limitation should be: apply as needed.

January 06, 2009

The Seeds of Compassion

The Dalai Lama

Compassion is not religious business; it is human business. It is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability; it is essential for human survival.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

A gathering called Seeds of Compassion took place in 2008 during a five-day visit to Seattle by the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and thousands of others. Its purpose was to "explore the relationships, programs, and tools that nurture and empower children, families, and communities to be compassionate members of society."

With any new subject, it is my tendency to set the table with what I recently called "definition, history, and context." Without using the word "compassion" or focusing intently on its meaning, much of my life and work had been driven by similar ideas. In preparation for my participation in Seeds of Compassion, on the Seeds of Compassion Wiki article "Ideas to Nurture Kindness and Compassion," I published my working definition of compassion:

To plant the seeds of your own compassion, look at the roots of the word, 'compassion'. As in the word 'community', 'com' is the web of all living things -- all plants, all animals, all people, and everything that lives. Think of the passion you have for your friends and family, the passion you have for your work, your creations, and your ideas. When you see yourself as one living thing in a community of life, and when your passion for your own life is the same as your passion for the life of all things, then you have compassion.

My working definition from early 2008 blends well with the Dalai Lama's observation today. Compassion is personal first; it is needed by each of us as individuals. Then compassion is for our communities as an extension of ourselves.

The first part of the Dalai Lama's observation is often what surprises people most -- "Compassion is not religious business; it is human business." There is no one, true religion, as the Dalai Lama himself, the leader of his own religion, readily acknowledges. Every religion claims to be the one, true way to the exclusion of others, which can hardly be the case. If you are a follower of and contributor to any one particular religion, I can only encourage you to seek broader, more realistic solutions to the world's many problems. Compassion addresses the universality of our human condition, shared global issues, and the necessary universality of ethics and civil society.

Compassion is the ethical heart of an open, culturally compatible, and growing commons which includes shared art and culture, science, and technology. The practical essence of compassion is the edge needed to persevere through bounds of inertia and momentum like prejudice, belief, and dated tradition. We are all in this together, now more than ever and tomorrow more than today. We must continue to shed false and prohibitive divisions and to make our way forward together.


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