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Mindful Compassion for a Healthier Social System


Mindful Compassion for a Healthier Social System

Scott Lilleston

It’s important to realize how much our economics, politics, business models, social media, entertainment, and education systems influence our minds. For better or worse, our individual lives are always intertwined with a greater collective system.

Our social system conditions  us to behave in particular ways. Unfortunately, this very patterning can trap us to conform to certain norms that aren’t within our own value system. In this way, we may end up feeling disempowered and out of control.

In Western society, the drive to consume and achieve individual sovereignty, rather than work towards collective goals, tends to be overdeveloped. In many ways, this leads to feelings of dis-ease, stress and isolation. Our innate drive for social connectedness and well-being can often take a back seat.

Understanding our emotion driven tendencies in the context of these systems empowers us to “get to know ourselves” so that we can operate more consciously and relate to one another better.

Consider our enormous drive to be accepted, approved of, valued, esteemed, desired, wanted, and loved; and on the other hand, to avoid being criticized, shamed, rejected, or forgotten. For the majority of us, social drives and needs are at the core of our sense of self. These are what motivate us.

As social creatures, we love to do things together; to become a “we” and not just a “me.” Forming groups that share interests and values is very important to develop a sense of security and belonging. Naturally, there is a downside to groups as well. Groups can become aggressive, competitive, and exclusive. The tendency to easily form into groups and then be aggressive toward “non-group” people is a dangerous bias. Evolution, after all, has designed our brains to be sensitive towards those who are a part of our group, and push away those who are not.

The key question is: Are we happy to just do what our brains seem to tell us to do?

Once we recognize that we do have the power of choice, we can begin to apply mindful compassion to work against that bias in order to genuinely live a more inclusive and gratifying life. Mindful compassion allows us to more clearly see where we get “caught” in life by pre-existing social systems that we don’t agree with. It is about seeking the truth of how we create suffering within our own minds and thus the suffering of the social systems we live in.

When we become wiser about our own suffering we can then begin to alleviate and prevent it in oneself and others.

When we lack mindfulness and compassion, we simply go along with society’s norms, because this is what our mind is driven to do. By applying mindful compassion we move from working only for personal benefit to considering the greater collective.

It is absolutely critical, however, that compassion is employed simultaneous to mindfulness because it allows us to deeply understand the trap. In this way, we can begin to courageously build the kind of society we want our children and grandchildren to grow up in.