The mayor of Toronto used crack cocaine and lied about it. The former director of the largest school board in Canada plagiarized other people’s work and lied about that too. A former deputy minister of education and tenured University of Toronto professor was arrested for authoring graphic child pornography and is awaiting trial. Am I the only one wondering if the world has gone slightly mad?
Each one of us is on a spectrum somewhere between positive and negative and we all have light and dark qualities within us. Government, finance, military and corporate leadership jobs all involve power over others, and people who acquire significant wealth and power are at-risk for developing even more negative qualities and behaviours if they don’t have a strong ethical compass to guide them. All of us, especially our leaders, can easily lose our way.
In North America, we put a heavy emphasis on exterior development. We think about acquiring bigger houses, faster cars, the next promotion, and a bigger pay check. We focus on power, control, status and materialistic gain. In focusing so much on the external, we easily lose sight of what really matters – being kind and compassionate, helping others, and making a difference in the world.
We have reached what some call a collective state of insanity. Our current methods of fast food production make people and the environment sick. We are in a time of worldwide economic meltdown. We are increasingly dependent on oil, have experienced a massive erosion in public trust, and our planet is ecologically imperiled. Our weather patterns are intensifying as we experience hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts, snowstorms, and floods of unbelievable severity. Gaps continue to grow between the rich and the poor, food and water crises are rising and more than one billion people are starving A billion and a half adults are overweight, half of the food produced in North America is thrown away, yet floods and droughts threaten the food supply in other parts of the world. We have achieved technological brilliance but we haven’t developed wisdom or conscience to match it. As Omar Bradley said, “Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants.”
How do we transform ourselves from ethical infants to ethical giants in a way that matches our technological advances? We stop focusing on our exterior selves and we start focusing on our inner selves. We don’t need faster computers, better iphones, bigger houses, or smaller and faster espresso machines. These are all exterior components of our lives. We need more care and compassion, more kindness and empathy, more wisdom and better ethics. These are interior components of our lives.
Developmental psychologists tell us that we there are three general stages to inner human development: “me,” “us,” and “all of us.” Currently in North America, we are stuck in the “me” stage. We care more about ourselves than we care about others. In order to move to the next stage in our development, we must decrease focus on ourselves and increase focus on others. When we begin to move from “me” to “us” and then to “all of us,” we decrease our narcissistic ways, we increase our ability to take deeper and wider perspectives into account and we extend care and compassion to all.
Stuck in the “me” stage of development, we face a major ethical challenge. Our governments, politicians, corporations, and educational institutions are in desperate need of leaders who have developed their interior selves, and who consistently and intentionally tap into their hearts. What good is it to have access to destructive technologies if our leaders don’t have the heart wisdom to manage those technologies? What good is it to have mayors running our cities, directors running our school boards, and deputy ministers of education running our classrooms if they demonstrate a lack of wisdom by smoking crack cocaine, plagiarizing other peoples’ work, or allegedly writing child pornography?
While each of us must turn our attention to our own inner development, it’s imperative that our leaders do the same. We need leaders who are ethical and moral giants, not ethical and moral infants. We need leaders who consistently work at developing their inner wisdom and who always do the right thing even when no one is watching. We need leaders who regularly extend care and compassion to all and leaders who have developed beyond the “me” stage in their lives.
We’ve done an outstanding job of developing our materialistic, external selves. Now it’s time to turn our attention to developing our compassionate, internal selves. Internal human development, especially for those who lead, is a critical next step in the evolution of our culture.
Debbie L. Kasman
Author Lotus of the Heart: Reshaping the Human and Collective Soul