Thursday, August 6, 2009

“It Ain't Necessarily So” - a letter from Lake Champlain

Hiya! Sorry for the long delay in posting anything. I'm on vacation with my family in Vermont, and every morning so far, I've been determined to write something. Alas, it hasn't happened until now. I acknowledge that I've been out of integrity; even though I never explicitly promised to write more than once every two weeks, I know that I should be writing more often than I have been. I could blame it on the poor internet connection here, etc. but it's really just my doing. So I apologize, and I'm committed to sharing my thoughts with you at least once a week, if not more.

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Besides all the swimming, eating, Monopoly playing, horsey riding, and wine drinking, I've been doing a lot of reading on this trip. Anyone who's been in my office knows I always have a pile of books on my desk that I'm getting to, and I've had a great opportunity while here to catch up.

When the book The Three Laws of Performance by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan came out earlier this year, I read it immediately. As many of you know, I'm a big fan of Landmark Education, and since Steve is one of the head guys there, I knew the book would be full of great insights. So I took the book with me on this trip to reread. I knew there'd be new insights for me personally, but I was also hoping to find a thing or two for the blog.

And lo and behold! Steve and Dave's book is primarily a business book, and the Three Laws are mainly described as they relate to business situations. But one of the foundations of the book is the concept of how things occur to us.
“Consider that when we do something, it always makes complete sense to us. On the other hand, when others do something, we often question, 'Why are they doing that? It doesn't make any sense!' But if we got into the world of that person, and looked at how the situation occurred to him, we would experience that the same actions that we were questioning were completely and absolutely the perfect and correct thing for him to do, given how the situation is occurring to the person. Each person assumes that the way things occur or him or her is how they are occurring for another. But situations occur differently for each person. Not realizing this can make another's actions seem out of place.... Given the different positions that well-informed, intelligent people often take on a situation, there is a significant difference between the objective facts of the matter and the way those facts occur to each of us... we are not saying that there isn't a 'real world.' We are merely pointing out that our actions relate to how the world occurs to us, not to the way it actually is.”
Steve and Dave go on to say that we relate to each other as if “each is dealing with the same set of facts” when in fact we're really dealing with how the facts occur to us.

I recently took a Landmark course on communication, and the course leader led us through exercises to deeply and directly understand this concept. She reminded us that when we believe something to be a fact, it ain't necessarily so.

This way of understanding human behavior isn't new; it's surely at the heart of Landmark's work, and it's a common theme in Buddhist teachings. And this is the heart of compassion; suffering with, deeply understanding another's point-of-view. Psychologist Piero Ferrucci says in his book The Power of Kindness:
“...empathy––which is at first only a simple instinctual capacity to resonate––develops and becomes the capacity to understand other people's feelings and points of view, to identify with them.” [emphasis added]

“However varied and vast our inner world may be, it is still a closed system, ultimately narrow and oppressive. Our thoughts, worries, desires: Is that all there is? Sometimes it seems so. But to step out of this world and enter other ones––the passions, fears, hopes, and suffering of other human beings––is akin to an interplanetary voyage. Yet it is a feat far simpler to accomplish. Closing ourselves to other people makes us imbalanced, whereas participating in their lives makes us healthier and happier. Self-attention of self-focus is correlated with greater depression and anxiety. We know this much for sure: People who are most concerned with themselves and less with others are more likely to feel fearful or unhappy.”
This might seem like a matter of personal choice: Who are you, Jon, to tell me to be compassionate, to cultivate empathy? Who are you to tell me that the world isn't necessarily how it occurs to me? If my facts are right, at worst it seems you might be more anxious, and less happy. That's surely not mine to dictate. But the stakes are higher than you might imagine. Ferrucci continues:
“Training in empathy is perhaps one of the most urgent needs in our educational programs at all levels. Yehudi Menuhin, the great violinist, once made an extraordinary statement in an interview: If German youth had been brought up not only to appreciate the music of Beethoven, but to sing and dance traditional Jewish music, the Holocaust would not have happened.”
And so here's where the arts come in. You, as an artist, or as someone who contributes to the arts, has an opportunity to cultivate empathy with your work. Is it likely that doing so could prevent another Holocaust? Hard to imagine. But we can imagine the effect cultivating compassion can have on an audience and extrapolate.

In a world where there is so much suffering, then, your contribution to the arts suddenly gains urgency. Think for a moment, about where there is suffering in the world, and how the arts––specifically, your work in the arts can contribute, and make a difference.

Signing off for now from beautiful Vermont... stay tuned for an amazing video from Fuse Entertainment manager Richard Demato, speaking on what's possible when an artist comes from a place of true inspiration, having courage in the face of fear. *

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