When we harm someone, be it in big ways or small, we are not only harming the other person, we are also indirectly harming ourselves.
The harm may not be immediately apparent. But such actions diminish our personhood and gradually erode our character. As a result we risk losing the best part of ourselves – that which makes us human with our rich capacity to feel, empathize, care for others and support them.
When we view our actions through the lens of love and ask ourselves “Do my words or actions help the other person; are they beneficial in some way or detrimental? ” we are more likely to stay on course. This is love in practice. This is love in action.
It’s that simple and it’s something we can teach children in kindergarten. It’s also something that can be taught to leaders of organizations and even leaders of nations.
It’s easy to fall into a frame of mind dominated by the demands of our to-do lists. This gets translated into feelings of time-starvation and stress which can feel like we are swept away by currents beyond our control. Other times, high levels of stress can even feel like a tsunami coming right at us.
Such situations can make us feel helpless and even hopeless, as we confront the magnitude of challenges we are faced with.
But a simple message, email or short phone call to say hello to someone can have a huge impact on you and others. This is especially the case if you know people who are experiencing difficulties. Even if we cannot change their situation, reaching out to them and letting them know that you are thinking of them is a way to offer them social support.
Reaching out to others has positive effects on both parties: it not only benefits the recipient of the message, but the sender of the message also benefits by creating conditions for genuine human connection.
Without two people, there is no connection – only isolation.
Although isolation may be good for work that requires deep concentration, we are created to flourish in connection with others. That’s what the psychology of Attachment Theory is all about: the importance of genuine bonds between people; and this is relevant for everyone, starting from infancy and extending into later life.
Without a genuine connection to others, we wither like a plant with no water.
So I invite you to take a moment, even if it might feel counterintuitive during your busy day, and reach out to at least one person whom you have not been in touch with for a while.
I don’t mean “networking” for the sake of business. I mean just reaching out because you are genuinely interested in their wellbeing. If you already interact with many people, consider reaching out to someone outside of your immediate circle of family, friends and co-workers.
Who might that person be? And what if you reached out every day to people whom you may not ordinarily reach out to?
This kind of daily touchpoint of genuine human connection serves as a multi-vitamin for the psyche. It just might be the thing that helps us not only stay afloat but also navigate turbulent waters.
Life is difficult for so many people on so many fronts. At the moment, there is the well-publicized war in Ukraine along with many other conflicts around the world. People suffer from illnesses. People make desperate pleas for money. Others have lost jobs and fallen into hard times.
The list of suffering is long and varied and enough to make one want to hide under a blanket until the end of the world. In such moments, it is important to recognize the transformative power of love.
Even when we feel depleted, love in all its variations lies dormant within us. It is the one thing that has enabled humans and other animals to survive for thousands of years. It is the one thing that has enabled people to heal from tragic losses. Love is one of the most important aspects of human resilience. Just as there can be no life without sunlight, there can be no life without love.
If you are in a difficult place, ask yourself how you might connect with others so they can share their heart’s light with you. Even the briefest of connections can help to spark hope and purpose in the metaphoric darkness.
By the same token, even if you feel bereft or bankrupt, remember the agentic power of love. Whether you realize it or not, you have within you the power to touch other people’s lives.
You don’t have to work major miracles. Just the simple practice of love – be it a kind word, a moment’s attention to someone in pain, holding the door open for the person behind you as you enter a building, giving up your seat in a bus to a pregnant woman – costs you nothing.
Yet, for the recipient, it can mean the difference between veering into darkness versus steering in the direction of hope.
With so much darkness in the world, you don’t have to look far to see how you might shine your light in the direction of someone in need.
Maybe you cannot stop war, or solve the world hunger problem or resolve a host of other plagues. But I know for sure, that by sharing whatever light you have within you, you can and will touch people’s lives profoundly.
Your heart’s light is much like the light of the sun: boundless and life-sustaining. I invite you to consider how you might share your light such that your heart shines brightly to the best of its ability.
In many instances, historical events and health statistics represent the spectrum of human suffering: armed conflict, famine, health inequalities, poverty, epidemics, interpersonal violence, and so much more…
Yet, each of these events and each statistic is much more than simply a historical event or a well-measured data point. We are in fact, talking about humans experiencing major life-altering events that take their toll on people’s bodies, minds and souls.
Ultimately, human suffering remains a mystery, especially when painful events are senseless. Yet, in the face of this mystery, we are called to forge ahead, grounded in the faith that despite chaos and meaninglessness, life is also balanced by an innate organizing principle. Additionally, we have been given the capacity to transform meaninglessness into meaning.
Just look at how seeds sprout when planted in fertile soil and watered regularly. There is rhythmicity in the changing of seasons – spring always follows winter. Animals of many kinds devote energy and effort to caring for their young. People who have undergone traumatic events transform into advocates and activists to ensure that others won’t have to suffer as they did.
Right alongside the ubiquity of suffering, there is also the ubiquity of actions grounded in love and kindness. When lives are shattered, be they through illness, violence or a host of other ways, it is love, in its multitude of forms, that enables people to go on even when things seem impossibly difficult.
Just as we brush our teeth and take showers for our physical well-being, it is equally important to adopt a mental hygiene program that regularly takes inventory of all of the instances of love that surround us. Recognizing the goodness that surrounds us, despite tragedy and chaos, is what keeps our hearts hopeful and free of calluses.
I would like to share some examples of love in action that I have been privileged to witness in the past two weeks: a businessman in Maine visiting elderly people in nursing homes, comforting people with incurable illnesses; a university administrator in the midwest spending weekends empowering men so they can more effectively care for themselves and others; a businessman in Connecticut mentoring low-income youth in Asia, to pursue higher education; a woman in Switzerland and a man in Israel mobilizing people to collect and deliver humanitarian supplies to the Ukrainian border; and perhaps most poignant of all, a nine-year-old Swiss girl, upset by the events in Ukraine, offering her teddy-bears to children who lost theirs fleeing war.
I invite you to actively identify examples of love in action within your life. This is how we can gather evidence to make the case for hope, even in a seemingly hopeless world.
There are a thousand ways in which the world can break our hearts. But my dear friends, there are one thousand and one ways in which love can comfort, mend and possibly even heal our hearts. By keeping our eyes open and acknowledging the existence of love in its multitude of forms, we can keep the chaos and despair at bay.
The world is filled with seemingly impossible challenges: wars, conflict, environmental degradation, interpersonal violence that affects one in every three women in the world, and the list goes on and on…
So where can we even begin to find hope and the possibility of change when problems are on a giant scale? The answer lies in women and women’s groups.
When I was a Reuters Digital Vision Fellow at Stanford University, I developed my innovation framework for violence prevention; this was reviewed by the Violence Prevention Alliance of the World Health Organization (WHO), and the NGO I founded was admitted to the alliance on the basis of the science behind the methods.
One of the pillars of my innovation framework is the power of women and women’s groups around the world. You most certainly have seen the power of women’s groups and their ability to successfully carry out health promotion and social change efforts; it is quite possible you may have benefitted from it in some way.
The WHO recommends empowering women with health information because of the pivotal role we play in caring not only for ourselves but also for our families and our communities.
But what exactly is the force that underlies women’s ability to overcome odds and improve conditions in the world?
When women and women’s groups work together to improve conditions in the world – this is love in action; it is one of the keys to overcoming seemingly impossible odds, and creating a better world today, and a better future for our children and grandchildren.
The next time you wonder how to make sense in a world that appears senseless and how to find hope in a world that feels hopeless, remember the power of women and women’s groups. Therein lie the seeds of hope, and love is the life-force contained within the seeds. I invite you recognize this and support women and women’s groups today, especially on International Women’s Day, but also everyday.
We can fly to the moon and we can explore the deepest oceans, yet our human hearts have not kept pace with technological advancements.
War and other forms of violence and bloodshed are vestiges of our old selves.
What kind of world do we want to leave for our children and grandchildren?
What if we invest as much in peace and violence prevention as we do in war and weapons? What if we systematically plant and cultivate the seeds of love?
What might the world be like in the next fifty years and beyond if we had a curriculum that taught adults and children everywhere essential elements of compassion, cooperation, peaceful discussions, and non-violent conflict resolution?
What if movies and television programs were saturated with actions that depict loving-kindness rather than aggression? What if along with teaching children reading and writing, we teach them about the active practice of empathy and caring for others? What if we taught all parents everywhere ways of raising children without resorting to violence?
I invite you to sit with these questions for a moment and envision the resulting world if we were to bring these ideas to fruition. This is a legacy you can feel proud of – and a legacy that will ripple forward into future generations.
It is time for our hearts and minds to keep pace with our technological advancements. There are many ways to plant the seeds of love as an antidote to violence. We can do so as individuals, as communities, as nations, and as one collective family on this planet.
What kind of world do you wish for your children and grandchildren?
We are wired as much for love as we are for aggression. War is not inevitable. We have choices as individuals and as nations.
The physical and emotional fallout of war and conflict contribute significantly to the global burden of disease and distress. If we want to improve the health of individuals and nations, then we must reset our compasses to focus on “tools of widespread construction” rather than “weapons of mass destruction.”
It is the only sane and compassionate course of action and future generations will thank us.
Expressing gratitude and appreciation strengthens relationships and contributes to people’s happiness and wellbeing. It is one way to increase feelings of love in your life and in the world.
I invite you to write a letter of gratitude to someone who has played an important role in your life. To help you get started and offer some inspiration, here is a short videowith information on how to do this.
While any day is a good day to write a letter of gratitude, February 18th is an ideal day, as it is the birthday of the late Chris Peterson, one of the founders of the field of positive psychology. You can learn more about his key message in the video. He was a remarkable man – a scientist and beloved teacher and colleague with a huge heart and this is one way to honor his memory and his legacy.
You may feel nervous writing a letter, but I promise you the results will be worth it. Dr. SD Shanti
It has been a while since I posted, as the pandemic continues to impose challenges. However, as large numbers of people are still experiencing distress and unmet needs, I looked for how to keep the mission of Prescriptions for Hope going, i.e. to prevent violence and depression and improve the health and well-being of populations.
The pandemic has derailed a lot of things and public health is in the ICU, so we have to find new ways to keep advancing universal goals of health and well-being.
Love – in its multitude of forms – is at the heart of so much that makes life meaningful and worth living. However, we as humans individually, and collectively as humanity, have yet to realize our fullest potential to love one another and love our earth. I don’t mean this in a granola, tree-hugging way. I mean just simple things like being present to those we love and taking time to care for others in need.
I also mean big things on a population level – such as creating healthy workplaces, and promoting love and other pro-social content in mass media, instead of the violence and sarcasm that passes off as entertainment and foments violence, discord and hatred.
Join me over the next 52 weeks in advancing love in small and big ways – be it in your personal life or in the world.
I am working on creating the accompanying web site which will go live in the next days. It will feature resources for you to take action, inspirational materials, and workshops and talks.
Let us work together to increase the net total of love in the world. It is the only way forward and is the only way for us to survive on this planet and create a positive legacy for future generations.
Thank you in advance for joining me in whatever way you can, within your spheres of action and influence.