Compassion In Action

The Secret of Effective Collaboration from the Ecodharma Centre/Guyhapati

On Sun, 4 October, 2015 - 20:39
mokshini's picture

I am reposting an interesting excerpt which Christine from the Sheffield Buddhist Centre posted earlier today - Guyhapati from the Ecodharma Centre speaking: 

The work I have been doing in recent years around sustainable activism and burnout has brought me into close contact with hundreds of activists across Europe. For many right now it’s easy to feel despondent, seeing ahead of them a long uphill struggle, amidst a political climate where their values of ecological and social justice are so marginalized. But often what they find most disheartening, what really depletes their energy, are the struggles and conflicts amongst those they work with. Frequently, to meet the challenges of transforming society, it’s necessary to transform the culture and relationships within their own groups, so as to become a truly effective and sustainable force for social change.

Whenever we choose to step into action to support social or ecological wellbeing, for most of us it’s going to mean collaborating with others, working together.

And working with others is not always easy. It can feel frustrating, draining, and unproductive. Meetings drag, personalities clash, both hidden and overt power struggles arise. And all this gets in the way of achieving what the group or organization started out to do. Whether at the level of grassroots and community organizing, or larger NGO’s, it’s not uncommon to despair at our chances of making meaningful change in the world if even within our own groups we can’t overcome such challenges!

One of the first things that can help is to acknowledge that, at this point in our history, our capacity to collaborate is often severely compromised.

Both self-survival and social cooperation are tendencies that have been integral to our evolution as a species. The tension between them is central to what it is to be a human animal. Within every human group, and within the heart of each individual, the tension between self and other is continually playing itself out.

But, during the recent decades of neo-liberal social development, an emphasis in favour of the values of individualism and self-interest have often prevailed. This legacy, with its consequent effects of social atomization and the erosion of community, continues to exert an undermining influence on our collaborative endeavours. Many of us have grown up in the wake of the Thatcherite view that “there is no such thing as society, only individuals and their families”, in a world where the skills and the values required to work well together, are seriously under- developed and under-practiced. Consequently, for most of us today, effective collaboration requires a focused re-training.

At the ecodharma centre we support people to train in necessary skills, like collective visioning, decision making processes, ways of including diverse opinion, active listening, and so on. All of these tools and methods can help transform collaborative work from a struggle into a nourishing synergy.

Nevertheless, the application of these tools and approaches all rest on some basic values and qualities essential to reclaiming our natural capacity to work well together. And to me, one of these qualities stands out above all the others, as the real secret to effective collaboration.

Aldous Huxley, so I understand, was asked towards the end of his life if he had any advice to offer based on what he had discovered during his many years of exploring and researching the human predicament. Aldous was a visionary author and astute social commentator, his curiosity about the human condition led him to explore eastern mysticism and psychedelic consciousness. No wonder his companions were keen to hear a distillation of the wisdom Aldous had gained on his adventures into the depths of human psyche. So what was the great psychonaught’s answer, what advice did he have for humanity after his many years of thought and exploration? Huxley’s answer was, simply: “Try to be a little kinder.”1

For some this answer might feel slightly deflating. This man, a preeminent intellectual of his time, led by a hunger for deep wisdom, arrives at a position that could seem a bit trite. But perhaps the issue is not so much the obviousness of the advice, as our inability to really feel the deeper resonances in the challenge of this suggestion. What if that really is all there is to it? “Try to be a little kinder.”

Personally, I think that kindness is one of the most underestimated virtues of our times. It is radically transformative of both our self and of our relationships. If there is one secret to effective collaboration this is it: Don’t underestimate the power of kindness.

It won’t solve all the problems. Some of them might be unsolvable! But as a touchstone to test whether or not we are bringing our best to our collaborative relationships, laying down the most helpful conditions to support the greatest potential to arise amongst us, it is the unbeatable question: In this, can I be a little kinder?


1 “It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than ‘Try to be a little kinder.’” As quoted in What About the Big Stuff?: Finding Strength and Moving Forward When the Stakes Are High (2002) by Richard Carlson, p. 293

In my experiences of working with others for social change, I can see that where things failed, all too often my own lack of kindness was a major factor, and that whenever I have been able to really allow this quality to inform my approach, it’s transformational, things work so much better – and collaboration gains longevity, continuity, and depth.

Kindness for our self supports the intimate awareness that’s a key to self-knowledge and the integration of our energy around our intentions and values. Kindness furnishes the trust to venture beyond the comfort zone into spaces where we can keep opening gently and consistently to more and more learning. Kindness is the basis for the courage we need to sit amidst contradiction and diversity, to feel it unfold towards wisdom- rather than fearing the incoherence of reality. It provides us with the nourishment that enables us to loosen our grasping onto views, and acknowledge their provisional and partial nature. It allows differences to deepen into shared understanding, rather getting entrenched in conflict.

Kindness underpins so many other essential virtues: Demanding generosity, counselling patience, and dynamicising compassionate and courageous action. Kindness is a solvent which melts away the brittle dualism of self and other. The empathy it implies de-centres our world from self, and relocates our reality in the fecund world of inter-subjectivity.

And even when it all goes wrong, kindness is the basis of an emotional resilience that enables us to bounce back, to forgive, to learn from experience, and to usefully share that between us.

Kindness is a quality we can consciously develop, especially through the basic dharma trainings of ethics and meditation. If we want to step into effective action for social and ecological wellbeing, we will need to work with others. If we want to collaborate effectively with others we’d do well to make training in kindness our radical priority.

1169 – (9:18mins) 

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