On Development (personal and international)

February 19, 2012

This post is not really about International Development, or developing regions, or technology. It’s about my interest in all these things. It’s a kind of confession. I hope that others will stumble upon it, and gain something from it.

If you think I’m crazy or lying, please write a comment! I want to know if these words strike you as truth or not!

What just happened?

I’ve been doing some work on myself (personal development) recently, including attending the ISA Experience. One thing they asked us to do, before we arrived, was to write a personal statement about what we hoped to gain from the Experience. I had no idea what to expect, or what was possible. But I remember reading in the brochure:

What if you could not fail? How would you approach every day? What would you achieve? You could be anything, couldn’t you?

So I thought about what I wanted to do with my life, and wrote the following (other parts I might share another day :-):

If I could do anything I wanted, I would:

  • Reduce unfairness and unhappiness in the world
  • Make a noticeable positive impact on the human condition

The question was one that we participants discussed often during those days. Someone on the course asked me why I was there. I said that I wanted to make the world a better place, that I couldn’t imagine anything better to do with my limited time on Earth. And she told me that she had once wanted the same thing, and she’d learned that we, who desire to change the world, often need to change ourselves first.

And she told me about Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit priest, psychotherapist, spiritual guide, writer and public speaker. When she told me that de Mello’s work had been banned by the Catholic Church, I was hooked. I’m not a fan of religious institutions, and a natural rebel. She told me that his work was available online, and I found a recording of a 1986 conference (lecture series). I highly recommend these lectures to you.

I also want to point out that I am not religious or spiritual. I will quote from religious and spiritual people, because they are wise gurus, not because I follow the religions started in their names.

Development 2.0

I learned much from ISA, De Mello and Don Miguel Ruiz, and I will list some of these learnings here, in the hope that they may inspire others to follow these same paths, at least for the journey, and that they will share their experience with others. In particular, I now think that:

  • Improving the human condition depends on awakening or self-discovery.
  • There are gurus whose wise words deserve attention and deep thought.
  • This knowledge is not new, but thousands of years old, and yet few understand it even today.
  • Our society offers us convenient, empty distractions from the truth: consumer goods, entertainment, news, gossip, wealth, therapy, etc.
  • We must awaken ourselves, encourage others, and spread knowledge of the truth.
  • This is the real development: personal, national, international and human.

My understanding of development has changed completely since I entered this sector with a desire to do good and relieve suffering. I thought that we in the West did not suffer, while the starving in Africa do. I have learned that this idea was wrong:

  • Many people in Africa are happy despite material problems (money does not buy happiness);
  • “Development” based on copying our society is a lie, a trap;
  • We are not more developed, just differently;
  • Let us not forget that “developing” nations are the oldest on Earth, and have had the most time to develop themselves.
  • Let us not judge who is “developed” or not.
  • Let us explore and share the truth and enlightenment instead.

On Happiness

I learned some keys to being happy in my own life:

  • I choose whether to enjoy or to hate, to be happy or miserable, every moment of every day.
  • That choice is usually made automatically by my programming (conditioning).
  • It’s really hard to override the conditioning and reinterpret my world.
  • It’s even harder to remember to do it all the time!
  • Suffering is caused by our desire or craving for something.

Many wise people have said these things, and yet most of us are still asleep:

“I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.” – Martha Washington

“Happiness is not a matter of good fortune or worldly possessions. It’s a mental attitude. It comes from appreciating what we have, instead of being miserable about what we don’t have. It’s so simple, yet so hard for the human mind to comprehend.” – Bits and Pieces

A Cherokee elder was teaching his children about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to them. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandchildren thought about it and after a minute one of them asked, “Which wolf will win?”

The elder simply replied, “The one you feed.” – Unfolding Leadership

On Others

I used to think that it was important to please others. I still think that my parents gave me this name, Christopher, for a reason, not just because it started with the letter C. They wanted me to be a good boy and to help others. I struggle every day to decide whether I am helping others for my own sake or for theirs. I struggle every day not to take personally the insults and compliments that others give me, and to do what I feel is right, to be authentic.

My personal development has given me some insights that help me when I remember them:

  • Other people do not really know us.
  • They think they do, but they observe us filtered through their own values.
  • They assign these filtered, judged attributes to our character in their own life story.
  • When they talk to us, they are really talking to that character in their own story.
  • Who is talking is not them, but their character in their own story, not necessarily the same, unless they are authentic
  • If we derive happiness or unhappiness from the words of others, we set ourselves up to be manipulated by them.
  • If we hate them, we poison ourselves and our lives with hate.
  • If we deny or condemn them, we give them power over us.
  • Let us confront our demons, observe and appreciate their strengths and weaknesses.

(Edit) After listening to a little more Anthony de Mello, I will quote him directly:

Any time you have a negative feeling towards anyone, you’re living in an illusion. There’s something seriously wrong with you. You’re not seeing reality. Something inside of you has to change.

But what do we generally do when we have a negative feeling? We’re saying “He is to blame, she is to blame, she’s got to change”. No, no. The world is all right. The one who’s got to change is you.

I have much more to write, but this article is already too long. I hope to write a second part soon.

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3 Responses to “On Development (personal and international)”

  1. Phil said

    Thanks for sharing, Chris!

    As for the question regarding, “Are you doing good for others or just yourself?” There are intellectual arguments, such as “The selfish gene”, etc, but to be honest, i think that judging oneself in this matter only serves to torments one’s own soul. If you’re your intention is to do good and your actions do good, all is good. Psycho-analysing whether or not the conscious mind is trying to be selfless whilst the unconscious is acting in self-interest is time that might be better spend on just doing something positive either for others or yourself. We all need to nurture ourselves, too. The stronger, healthier and more balanced we are, then the more good we are able to do, right?

    On another note, recently, there was a thought-provoking TED Talk by Alain de Botton who considered the question:
    “What aspects of religion should atheists (respectfully) adopt? Alain de Botton suggests a “religion for atheists” — call it Atheism 2.0 — that incorporates religious forms and traditions to satisfy our human need for connection, ritual and transcendence.”
    http://blog.ted.com/2012/01/17/atheism-2-0-alain-de-botton-on-ted-com/
    One thing I realised though through his talk and all my own searching over the years was that so many ‘gurus’ as you put it, were people of God or gods and it was from God or god that they drew their inspiration. Without such ‘divine’ inspiration and religion, would they have become the people they were/are? [Perhaps I should re-watch the talk again then re-post this there! Thanks for the reminder though you may not know how you’ve reminded me ;-)]

    Indeed, your last reference to Anthony de Mello resonates with the notion, “Change yourself. Change your world.” or as Gandhi is famous for saying, “Be the change…” 🙂

    By the way, you’re article wasn’t too long. I read it from start to finish non-stop without noticing the time whatsoever. I was reading in flow which is testament to the fact that your writing held my interest through and through 🙂 I admire, respect, and appreciate you having the courage to share your thoughts so openly.

    Also, if you haven’t seen it already, I think you’d enjoy watching “Waking Life”. Reminds me also of the story of a man dreaming he was a butterfly dreaming about being a man, and we he awoke he wondered if he wasn’t that butterfly now just dreaming he was a man. I think you would also enjoy the writings of Lao Tzu, if you’re not already familiar with his work:

    “He who knows others is clever, but he who knows himself is enlightened. He who overcomes others is strong, but he who overcomes himself is mightier still.”

  2. Nadejda Loumbeva said

    Fantastic post, Chris. Quite Buddhist. Not spiritual you said? We all have a religion. Atheism is also a religion. We all draw from a source of some sort. The nature of it defines who we are.

    I am really happy for your searches and discoveries. Personally, I think our purpose in life is to make ourselves happy. To learn, grow, develop ourselves, and make ourselves happy, no matter what that means. However, to me it seems this is just one aspect, or one ”plane” of our existence. There is another ”plane” which interacts with the first one and this one has something to do with mindset, values, and ultimately self-development. The latter ”plane” defines the meaning of happiness on the former ”plane”. The sustainability of our planet depends on how the latter ”plane” interacts with the former ”plane”.

    To illustrate, people are happy because of different things. Some people (perhaps most of us, at times) are happy consuming, buying, accumulating wealth. Others are not motivated by such values, and are searching for other things. The Universe is a great place, and it has everything (”good” and ”bad”, as we call it) in it. Unless that were so, we would not be. We, people, will always want something in our lives. And, unless we had something to win over in ourselves, there would be no potential for growth and happiness in us and our planet. (Our planet is also a living being, like we are.)

    Perhaps we are at a stage in our evolution where what we want is due to transform from material to spiritual. … Like children go through development stages, I feel we (people, the planet) must do, too. …

    Hope this makes sense … There is more to say, but I will stop here.

    Thank you! 🙂

  3. Shaun Jesus Silk said

    Very very insightful Chris. Your post is very wise and there is great substance in every word that you speak. I also am non-religious but I absolutely see the ‘actual’ truth that Anthony De Mello speaks and have been reading his book Awareness for ten years now (over and over ). Keep writing as your one of the few people who is able to speak of the truth and like de mello you are able to see ‘what is’ and articulate it.
    Shaun

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