How to Make the World a Better Place

It’s the only way to be consistently happy.
Based on the work of Petra Kuenkel and a Post published by Steven Stosny, Ph.D. on Mar 12, 2014 in Anger in the Age of Entitlement#

The great crisis of our times is failure to realize that we all have drives to change the world for the better. We can do this by making improvements, being protective, appreciating the joys of nature’s bounty and for being connected to other worlds and beings. These drives are dormant in everyone and are behind the attitudes and behaviours that lead to resilient and sustainable leadership. They point us away from the difficulties in defining sustainability as a set of widely agreed principles towards actions that are within the grasp of everyone. The first step is to know the 'place within that is at home with the universe'. This experience marked the initial awakening four centuries ago of Thomas Traherne to the reality of "consciousness as man's fundamental being and... the inward life which beckons beneath the concealing camouflage of trivial concerns". In other words, we should listen to the small still voice inside us all that whispers we can be an agent for change, either alone or with others because we all have the same inner drive. Thomas listened and this ultimately led to his seeing the world as " a mirror of infinite beauty, yet no man sees it'. He was awakened to see it and believed he was the happiest man who ever lived. This awakening comes from the spot in our consciousness that tells us that we can change the world for the better. It is the start of a personal leadership journey; a growing self expression that responds to what needs to be done in the world through a gateway to increasing world consciousness. It is the start of a growing movement that puts the future of humankind and Earth on the agenda and keep it there. This approach to leadership for sustainability was articulated and expanded by Petra Kuenkel in her book 'Mind and Heart'.

Kuenkel's book shows how leaders can use life and leadership experience to make a more meaningful contribution to the world. It leads us into the inner world of leadership that we often tend to deny: the intuitive insight that at the core of our leadership journey is our contribution to the collective evolutionary process. What if we all knew the place within that is at home with the universe? What if we all knew how it feels to tend the common, the very force that nurtures all of us?

The same route to happiness through environmental awareness and benevolent action can be seen in the earlier writings of Jiddu Krishnamurti and Thomas Merton.

All animals have a drive to make their environment better, where “better” just means safer, more comfortable, or pleasurable. For humans, ‘better’ also means fairer and more moral.

“Better” is a relative term, sometimes confused with “great” or “good” or “acceptable.” But we are highly limited as individuals in making the world we live in great, good or even acceptable, and we lose sight of the fact that the need to make it better can be satisfied in many ways. The smallest ways of making the world better can ultimately be the most potent. This is because of the fundamental ways that social animals, including humans, communicate and cooperate using modelling, emotional display, and mimicry.

Modelling is simply exhibiting the behavior the modeller expects others to adopt. Although the evidence for the power of modelling is copious in animals, we underestimate its global influence on human behaviour. We universally condemn hypocrisy, indeed are repulsed by it and consider it a form of betrayal, because it violates the implicit trust we place in modelling.

Emotional display
Emotional display is made up of the non-linguistic manifestations of emotions. In humans, it’s predominantly facial expressions, body language, and vocalizations. These comprise measurable vehicles of emotional contagion, where emotions of two or more people converge and are passed from person to person in larger groups. Emotions are more contagious than any known virus.

Without mimicry, it’s doubtful that any social animals who rely on cooperation could survive. It provides predictability in social contexts. In humans, it’s most noticeable in its violation, as when someone shouts, sings, or takes their clothes off in a restaurant. Mimicry is measurable in studies of social groups and nears a swarming effect in moving crowds, e.g., subway passengers approaching an escalator in rush hour can easily be manipulated experimentally to follow someone in a less direct path to the escalator.

If you don’t model what you want from others, i.e., be the kind of person you most want others to be, you are likely to mimic what you don’t want, grow defensive and highly reactive, with a great chance of becoming the very thing you despise. Think of how often you have seen people exhibit the very behaviors they condemn in others. Virtually all abusers perceive themselves to have been abused or exploited.

By the time we are adults, most of our emotional reactions have become habituated; on a kind of mental autopilot we react the same in similar social contexts and physiological, mental, and emotional states, over and over. Habits are formed by repeated focus and behavioural activation. Therefore, it is crucial to focus on what you want to model and practice the behaviours you want others to mimic.

The Drive to Improve

Human beings have a drive to improve. We function at our best when trying to improve and begin to lose meaning and purpose, health and wellbeing when we stop trying to improve.

Improve means striving to make something better. Think of improving as an incremental process—making things a little better at a time. People sometimes stop trying to improve because they don’t know how to “fix” a situation, i.e., make it completely better. In emotionally charged conditions, it’s nearly impossible to go directly from feeling bad to 100% improvement—feeling good. But once you make something 10% better, it becomes easier to make it 20% better. Then it’s easier to make it 40% better, and so on.

Types of improvement:
• Situational: Try to make the situation you’re in more beneficial, productive, or convenient.
• Experiential: Try to make your experience more comfortable, pleasant, or pleasurable
• Transcendent: Try to make your situation and/or your experience more meaningful.

Try a little experiment. Note your current emotional state. Count to five, then read aloud the following improve behaviours:
• Learn
• Grow
• Enhance
• Expand
• Analyze
• Build
• Repair
• Renew
• Redeem

Now note your current emotional state, after reading the above list aloud, you should find a slight elevation just from saying the words. Imagine the effect of enacting the behaviours.
N.B. It's impossible to improve when focused on how bad things are or on who's fault it is that they're so bad. We have to choose between blame and improvement, because we can't really do both.

The Drive to Protect

Protection of valued persons is a fundamental survival instinct. In fact, the primary function of anger and aggression in humans is not self-protection, as you might think. Imagine what would make you angrier, e.g. an attack on you or your children. The instinct to protect loved ones generally overrides self-protection Most people would risk their lives to protect their children.
Elements of protection:
• Nurture
• Reassure
• Encourage
• Support
• Show love and affection

The Drive to Appreciate

It is well documented that we live in an era of sensory and information overload. Lost in the glare of gross-information and hyper-stimulation is the transcendent emotional state of appreciation.

Although we have a great deal more to appreciate with far less daily hardship and suffering than most of our ancestors, people report that they experience relatively little appreciation in their lives. Appreciation requires opening your heart and allowing yourself to be enhanced by the experience of someone or something. In the act of appreciation, life means more to us; the experience of being alive seems better.

We need appreciation to:
• Regulate negative moods
• Break the stronghold of autopilot functioning
• Give life dimension, dynamics, and colour
• Maintain a sense of meaning and purpose
• Make us happier
• Sustain intimate connection.

The Drive to Connect

It’s ironic that in our era of massive social media networks and instant electronic access that people feel more disconnected. Through constant distraction, digital media has deepened the void of meaningful connection it was supposed to fill and made us more aware of how disconnected we are.

Why we need connection:
• Our brains are hard-wired for it—we were never a solitary species; we’re the most social of all mammals, forming the strongest and most enduring emotional bonds.
• We suffer physically and mentally from disconnection.
• We become psychotic without social cues.

Types of Connection:
• Basic humanity (compassion, kindness)
• Familial – emotional resonance with kin
• Intimate – emotional resonance and wellbeing is intertwined with another
Spiritual – relating to something larger than the self
• Communal – identifying with a group of people, based on shared values, goals, or experiences.

Defining sustainability leadership

Contributing to more sustainable action in the world requires parallel development of our inner resourcefulness, reflection, mindfulness and its expression in the outer world as redefined leadership.

Do not suppress the urge to change yourself, your situation, your contribution.

Know that you need resilience and the willingness to risk some parts of your identity that you are very used to.

Be humble enough to accept that you are entering a learning process.

Begin a conscious search. What do other people do? What has been written about the aspects of sustainability that interest you? Who is meeting where and when on issues that align with your new journey?

Do not demoralise yourself by insisting that the change must be immediate and substantially different from the old. Go step by step.

Value encounters- you might deliberately contact people you want to learn from or be inspired by.

Be on the lookout for fellow travellers.