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It's Not About You: Tips on Widening Your Perspective

By Zoe Weil

It's a given that we live in a globalized world. We eat foods produced across the globe; we use electronics whose components come from dozens of places around the world; we can communicate instantaneously with anyone anywhere who has a computer with wifi or a cell phone.

With globalization has come awareness. We can quickly know about the conditions under which people live and work in other countries. We can find out about the plight of other species, or about pollution or deforestation. If the nightly news doesn't report on these issues, we can discover them through our computers in minutes.

Knowing so much changes us. Or at least has the potential to change us. It enables us to be less tribal, provincial, and self-centered; to think of others outside our family, neighborhood, and even nation; to dwell as often on those we affect as on what affects us.

This is a good thing, but it's not an easy thing. Being aware of global atrocities, suffering, and destruction is hard and requires commitment, will, and effort. Being focused primarily on oneself and one's family, friends, and associates comes more naturally and easily. After all, we've evolved with this tribal mentality for millennia.

The problem is that this sort of modern tribalism backfires in a globalized world. We are not only complicit in the warming of our planet, the toxins entering our waterways, the exploitation of others in distant lands, which breeds conflict, resentment, and hostility; we are also ultimately negatively affected by these things.

A Little Too Much Self-Reflection?
There is a growing movement comprised of tens of millions of people (sometimes referred to as "Cultural Creatives"), who are open to new experiences and ideas and interested in leading lives that are fulfilled through connection rather than materialism or tribalism.

This movement seems primed to embrace the hard work of true global awareness that resists a largely self-centered worldview in favor of an expansive, we-are-all-neighbors perspective. It's an exciting shift with great promise. Yet this movement, so ripe for producing solutionaries, sometimes focuses a bit more heavily in the self-development arena than the action arena; more on fit bodies than bodies working for change; more on personal serenity than engagement with persistent problems in the world.

Don't get me wrong. I fall into the "Cultural Creatives" category; I practice Aikido and yoga, take hikes in the woods, and care for my body and mind; but I've noticed a trend among my fellow Cultural Creatives that's sometimes unduly "I-focused," reminding me of the self-centeredness of tribalism, albeit in different clothing.

Here's an example: a friend was going through some personal challenges; one thing after another kept going wrong over the course of a week. Then a blizzard hit and her car got stuck in an embankment. She exclaimed, "What is Spirit trying to teach me?!" I couldn't help but notice how strangely narcissistic that comment (a bit out of a new age workbook) sounded, even though it seemed to reject typical complaining and boo-hooing in favor of learning and growth.

But whether it's Spirit, or the Universe, or one's God, the idea that an act of nature was directed at us personally to teach us something is pretty self-centered when you think about it. "Spirit's" blizzard affected millions of people. Was it truly directed at each victim of its fury to teach each one a lesson?

Expanding Our Perspective
Thinking expansively, rather than personally, offers a different lens that leads to a different question - one that fits the cultural creative mindset, but also promotes compassionate action rather than self-involvement: What can I learn so I can live with greater integrity, empathy, wisdom, and kindness?

When we ask ourselves continually what we can learn from whatever comes our way and from whatever effects our own actions cause; when we refuse to personalize events and instead cultivate a deeper, more far-reaching perspective, we will not only break free of the cocoon of self-involvement, but also find ourselves more ready and able to stretch beyond our yoga mats into the wide world that needs us.

I practice Aikido and yoga because of globalization. I also practice change-making to benefit other people, other species, and the earth because of globalization. The primary tool I use to find a balance between inward and outward work is asking this question about all my choices: What will do the most good and least harm to myself, other people, animals, and the environment? Note that I include myself in this equation.

Widening our perspective isn't about self-sacrifice or self-neglect. It's about seeing one's place in the world for what it can be: personally gratifying and powerfully engaged in making a difference.

Zoe Weil is the president of the Institute for Humane Education, which offers the only graduate programs in comprehensive humane education, as well as online courses, workshops, and free resources. She is the author of Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life; Above All, Be Kind; The Power and Promise of Humane Education; and Claude and Medea, about middle school students who become activists. She has given several acclaimed TEDx talks, including "The World Becomes What You Teach" and "Solutionaries." Visit her blog, ZoeWeil.com.

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