It’s all by matter of connection. Empathetic relationships are what predict successful lives. George Vailliant has shown this in the Harvard Men’s Study of Adult Development and in his PPND article, Yes I stand by my words: Happiness is Love, Full-stop.
What we need are more superheroes in the world, real-life superheroes that can inspire us to take pathways to greatness – to live with more altruism, compassion, and love.
Who I Am Being
I try to be one of these people and have been thinking lately that the key is to speak peoples’ language, to start from where they are. But this is a challenge I face in my own life, working with some clients – even speaking with friends and family.
Just the other day at the Thanksgiving, I found myself in a rather heated political debate, being called “Just another stupid liberal” by my loved ones, many of whom are staunch supporters of Glen Beck and the Tea Party. In an effort to see, I am reading Beck’s “A Christmas Sweater” and I like the values he purports: family, faith, and forgiveness. Perhaps the difference between what he espouses and Positive Psychology is not so much in the definitions we use, but the assumptions we make in the defining.
Dr. Karen Reivich frequently says that “Positive psychology is about being more flexible and accurate with how we see the world.” It’s about seeing the world with increased perspective and a growing compassion for what others see. As world citizens, I believe our roles are in part to help each other with a process of seeing that can move our eyes from the scarcity of fundamentalism to the abundance of social justice.
“There’s no such thing as justice,” one of my family members said as she passed the turkey. “Not with that belief system,” I responded.
What We NeedWho am I to be telling you what we need? The perpetual dilemma in psychology is whether it is descriptive or perspective. In many environments, people are good about being prescriptive: Take this pill (at the doctor’s); Pass this test (at school); Profit, profit, profit (at work).
But with the paradigm shift inherent in positive psychology, we, too, need to shift our belief systems. It’s not always about doing – it’s also about feeling, which we know is related to thinking. If I believe the only way I’ll feel better is by taking a pill, then I’ll take the pill. We also know the power of the placebo.
So, what we need most to be able to walk the walk collectively is a real effort to change our assumptions about the way the world operates and the way we think it “ought to be.” These assumptions are often subconscious, not even appearing on our radar screens. They are expectations we have created – stories we tell ourselves about how it should be. By becoming conscious of them, we can ask, “Are these beliefs serving us any longer? Are they what we need?” Let’s be Social-Emotional Leaders and help each other do this.
For the last fifty years, we have evolved technically. If you only knew some of the things I could dial up from my iPhone! But have we evolved socially? Emotionally? Are we better connected?
Psychologists like John Gottman are designing interventions that help build this capacity for better relationships. It’s all in the realm of strength-based living: tuning in and powering up. Chris Peterson sometimes says, “When we know what we know, why do we live as we do?” That is, even with all of this positive research, it is difficult for us to change habits of thought and behavior (a) because as William James said back when, “Habit is the enormous flywheel of society,” and (b) changing these habits individually inherently affects the systems in which we are a part because my feeling and thinking and behaving influences your feeling and thinking and behaving. We are interconnected.
A 2007 article in The Quarterly Review of Biology took a look at a theoretical foundation for sociobiology in terms of multilevel selection theory, a way to understand the evolution of cooperative and altruistic behaviors. Professors David Sloan Wilson and Edward O. Wilson write, “group-level adaptations are seldom locally advantageous and, therefore, must be favored at a larger scale to evolve.”
To read about how I propose to affect larger change at local levels, visit my blog where I write about Peter Senge’s Learning Organizations.
Alloro, L. (2008). Shift Happens: Using Social-Emotional Leadership to Construct Positive, Sustainable Cultural Change. Capstone project for the MAPP degree at the University of Pennsylvania. Available at Scholarly Commons.
Wilson, D. S. & Wilson, E. O. (2007). Rethinking the Theoretical Foundation of Sociobiology. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 82 (4), 327-348.