We all experience difficulties, setbacks, shocks to our system, practically and emotionally. And, coming out of nowhere, they can sometimes hit us hard. Here, we’re going to look at some of the practical steps we can take when we’re facing significant long-term challenges.
First, though, I’d encourage you to recognize that we live in an inherently unstable world. The economy is booming one year and crashing the next. Companies come and go. Careers end. Relationships end. Friendships disappear (sometimes when we’re at our lowest). Or someone we love gets sick.
What can we do?
We have to accept the reality of the world without becoming depressed about it.
Recently, I’ve found myself advising people on different aspects of personal-development. Most of them belong to some kind of group — a mastermind group, a martial arts group, or a study group of some kind. While it is possible to develop skills and interests alone, everyone of us can benefit from group practice. Here, I want to briefly look at eight essential features that are necessary for building an organization, regardless of its raison d’etre, and regardless of whether it’s a small, local group or a larger network.
(1) A Common Interest:
The group must have a core interest. This might be spirituality. It might be motorbikes. It might be physical training. Or it could be something entirely different. What matters is that the members of the group are passionate about its core interest — its purpose for existing. There might be other aspects to the group which help it to run properly or that bring the members closer together — raising finances, social functions, and so on — but the core focus of the group should constitute the core practice around which everything else revolves.
An ethos of mutual respect must be cultivated. Younger or less experienced members might respect older members for their experience, wisdom, insights, and ability to guide the group ethically. Older members might respect the energy and enthusiasm of younger members, and their willingness to get things done.
But respect means you respect people even when your personalities just don’t gel. In many cases, once you get to know the person, your impression will change. But, if it cannot — so long as the individual is not acting in a way that drags the group down — then you can keep a respectful emotional detachment and perhaps find some qualities in the other person that you can respect.
In most traditional cultures from around the world, hospitality is central. The stranger is welcomed and fed. Yet, there is also a boundary line that cannot be crossed. The stranger has to respect the host, just as the host respects his guest. In any organization, hospitality is important. (Even corporations host annual dinners for their staff.) Yet, respect for each other’s time, family, and other relationships is also essential. Hospitality must not be allowed to cross over into familiarity.
(4) Appreciation For Individual Differences:
In every group, there will be people with different skills, professional experiences, life experiences, interests, and even aesthetic tastes. The group is a kind of machine, made up of various moving parts. Some parts might look more important than the others, but a machine — a whole — needs all of its various parts to run properly. Members should contribute their skills and work in areas that interest them, rather than following examples that do not really inspire them or that aren’t really a match for their personality or interests.
Moreover, a group gives each member a chance to enlarge their own understanding by meeting with, and listening to, individuals that they would not normally meet. Drawn together by a core interest, a writer, a soldier, a CEO, a tattooist, and a factory worker will all have something to learn from each other.
(5) Genuine Connection:
Related to the above, genuine connection requires not only respect and interest but the ability to listen — or what is sometimes referred to as “deep listening.” Instead of assuming that we know “what kind of a person” someone is, we have to try to find out what is interesting about that person, and what makes them tick. This means being willing to get rid of the impressions we have of someone before we’ve even spoken to them.
(6) An Elevated Standard of Behavior:
Although different groups will differ about what is elevated behavior, every meaningful and life-changing and life-affirming group will demand behavior that is in some way above that of the rest of society. Such behavior might require bravery and self-sacrifice. Or it might require manners, courtesy, and an ability to express oneself without cursing every few seconds. Whatever it might be, the group must set standards that are higher than that of society outside. It must be the place where members go to step up.
The kind of group that we are talking about is a tightly-bonded band of role models. And the behavior of each member is, or should be, a model for every other member. Flouting the rules isn’t edgy, and does not show independent thinking. No one is compelled to sign up to a voluntary group. Rather, flouting the rules demonstrates an inability to step up and be counted. And an ability to commit to one thing or another.
(7) Taking Action:
The group cannot survive on talk or theory. The group must do something. It must, in fact, create something. And the action taken must be based on the core interest of the group.
This includes mastermind groups, which come together to encourage each member in their life journeys. The group might not take action together but each is required to act and to improve his or her life or circumstances. A weekly mastermind meeting might even involve checking to see what action the members have taken since the previous meeting.
(8) A Culture of Value:
If group activity devolves into meaningless minute-taking, talk, criticizing, or well-meaning side projects that have nothing to do with the core interest of the group, it is probably in trouble. No one would stay in a martial arts school or a gym if the training was squeezed in between business meetings, endless discussions about nothing, or charity work. And few will stay if a voluntary group of any other type begins to act in the same way — especially if there are dues to pay.
A group is, in a sense, a dojo — a place of the “Way.” It is where the members go to realize who they are just a little bit more than they had, and to practice being who they want to become. That might mean becoming more knowledgeable, stronger, more courageous, better at public speaking, or something totally different. But the individual members should not only find value in ethos of the group but in its practice. Meditation, working out, business planning, mutual encouragement and support. It doesn’t matter. It matters only that the focus and activities of the group, create value for its members.
“The world is the great gymnasium where we come to make ourselves strong,” said Swami Vivekananda.
In contrast to our image of the aesthetic, holy man of India, Vivekananda placed great emphasis on strength. To be truly religious, an individual (perhaps especially a man) had to be strong. Why? Continue reading “Life as an Initiatic Test”→