Recognizing Our Common Humanity

I regularly encourage people to recognize there are always positive things taking place and to find ways to contribute to them. I think this is especially important right now due to the polarization and divisiveness we are all experiencing.

In short, it’s important to notice, remember, and contribute to the good stuff.

For this article, I’m borrowing from the Compassion Cultivation Training class I took a year ago while living in Berkeley. Developed at Stanford University, the purpose of the 8 week class is to help its students increase their overall resilience and better recognize their connection to others. In the fifth week, we focused on the simple concept that all people want the same things – safety, happiness, health, comfort, joy, peace, contentment, and ease, among them.

To practice this, our instructor gently suggested we apply the idea that people all want the same things to someone we encounter each day. In her words:

“Once each day, practice just seeing a person who might usually be invisible to you. Experiment with extending a ‘just like me’ awareness toward them, realizing that this person wishes to be safe and healthy, just as you do. That she/he/they know the experience of discomfort, of disappointment, and also of pleasure and laughter.”

The “just like me” phrase really resonated with me and I started using it as a sort of mantra as I go about my day. As one example, I started timing it with my footfalls when I go for a run, which I do three or four times each week. As I encounter people on my jog, I take note of them and see our common humanity, repeating in my head in time with my steps:

“Just Like Me (breath), Just Like Me (breath), Just Like Me (breath).”

It’s easy to bring the “just like me” awareness to other settings, too — when walking and driving, for instance, two other things I do on a daily basis. I find a key is being able to see people’s faces. If our eyes happen to meet I make a point to smile and nod slightly, acknowledging their existence and our momentary connection. I try to be mindful of not behaving in a way that might make the other person uncomfortable.

Back in class we talked about our experiences, some students sharing that it was hard to offer “just like me” awareness to someone who holds profoundly different political views. Of relevance, this class session took place during the height of the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings, a perfect example of polarization.

Our instructor suggested:

“When you find yourself making assumptions or judgements, pull back your awareness to the level of Common Humanity. Even if those judgements are still there, see if you can allow a bigger context for your reactions. Notice what, if anything, may shift. And if you find yourself angry or frustrated with someone, imagine how their actions might be due to their own underlying suffering.”

I found this to be really good advice and I encourage you to try it. Honestly, it’s not hard to look at someone and see that they want the same things you do. To make it easier, focus on just one thing that you can easily assume you both want, something like happiness or health.

Say to yourself, “Just like me, this person wants to be happy.”

This short video (less than 2 minutes) is also a really good way to notice that people are more alike than different.

I think we need an army of people practicing positivity to help bring us out of the depths of negativity that threaten to swallow us up. It’s not difficult to be part of this army. Changing one situation in which you are tempted to go, or have gone, negative into a positive does it. And the more you practice it, the more you get good at it.

Soon, you’ll be adding more positive energy to the universe than negative. Imagine the world we’ll live in when we all do that.

Published by Andy Smallman

I work to promote ordinary activities that awaken kindness, cheerfulness, thoughtfulness & awe, helping people connect to their true nature and increase peace in the world.