One of the most challenging (and controversial) perspectives of the "we can learn from everyone" variety, is acknowledging the profound growth that can come from NOT getting what we need from others, let alone being victimized by them. There is no shortage of stories detailing terrible crimes, tragedy and injustice every where we look, on both global and personal scales. And, in the American psyche at least, we often want to be able to ascribe blame and enjoy some sense of justice (and compensation) in the wake of a traumatic experience. In no way am I suggesting that this is wrong or inappropriate. It is not my place to judge what someone else feels they need in such circumstances. The fact is, seeking justice and/or compensation is simply a variation of the hard-wired instinct common to us all to defend and protect ourselves. Survival is a good thing to value!

While we are involved in our various fights to "make things right" however, I'd like to encourage us all to take a larger view so that we can also use tragic circumstances as opportunities for growth. This is extremely hard work I am suggesting but of the utmost importance if we really hope to advance as a species in terms of wisdom, compassion and the creation of harmony in our lives.

I read a very interesting account recently of an interaction between Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and a "channeled" guide. Essentially, the guide told her that when s/he next incarnates, s/he want to die of starvation as a child. Needless to say, Kubler-Ross was dumbfounded and said something to the effect of, "Are you freaking nuts?!" The guide's response?

"Elisabeth, it would enhance my compassion."

Whether or not you believe in Kubler-Ross's "channel" you have to admit, this statemet gives one pause. Many Eastern spiritual traditions hold that the true purpose of life is to further our spiritual growth as individuals which in turn promotes conscious evolution for all humans. Belief in reincarnation, however, while a cornerstone of this philosophy is not required for you to benefit from this general outlook.

If we think purely in terms of living an ethical, moral life, our thoughts will inevitably expand beyond our own immediate concerns to the needs and positive growth of others. Admittedly, for some of a more clannish mindset, "others" may only extend to one's family, neighborhood, or ethnic group, thus placing a ceiling on how high their human consciousness and potential for a harmonious life can go.

For those who are sincere in wanting to develop themselves more deeply on a spiritual level, however, willingly bumping up against our own boundaries and consciously challenging them can yield rich rewards. Hard won, no doubt, but extremely valuable.

It is easy to be loving and generous in good times and when surrounded by loving, generous and fulfilled people. Much harder when we see injustice and selfishness around us. It is very difficult to resist the dominant culture around us, whether it is positive or negative.

Think you aren't all that easily influenced by others? Think about that next time you are at a restaurant and ask someone else what they are having while you try to decide on your meal. We are social animals and we gravitate toward the group norm, sometimes in very subtle ways.

Action you can take:

If you are looking for suggestions for journalling or contemplation consider this: If you can uncouple yourself (with some effort) and entertain an independent outlook (to whatever degree you can manage) you can start to challenge your own boundaries and beliefs. You can start to ask yourself questions like:

"Is it really true that I 'can't understand some people'?"

"What criteria am I using to determine who is lovable and who is not?"

"Where is that line that, once crossed, tells me someone is unredeemable, unworthy, unimportant? Do I have different lines for different genders, races, income levels or attractiveness?"

Feel free to add your own...

And when you come to that point on your continuum that you can say, with surety, "This person is corrupt/bad/evil" take the time to reflect on their legacy. What good did their evil call out in the rest of us that we, right now, even in our smallest acts, can still build upon? What potential for darkness in you did their malevolence shine a light upon that made you consciously choose a different way to live? In the face of heartbreaking tragedy, what gratitude for your own live can you embrace more consciously?

I may not be saying anything to you that you haven't heard before but I ask that you approach these questions with a sincere dedication to answering them. Plumb your own psyche for where you really stand in this complex play of human triumph and misery.

What happens when you take away that luxury of "safe distance?"

Author's Bio: 

Laura Young, M.A. is a personal development coach specializing in helping individuals restructure their lives after significant loss or transition. With 25 years in personal development and doctoral training in counseling psychology, Laura has written extensively on such topics as relationships, love, loss, marriage, communication, intimacy, friendship and how to cope with life changes. Please visit her blog and website to tap in to her extensive resource base.