Heart to Heart: Creating Compassionate Communities

By: Ken Streater | Leadership | Blog

In a pattern that repeated itself daily for tens of thousands of years, our ancient predecessors pursued prey or herded livestock, fed their children and watched them laugh and play, ate the fruits of their labor, crawled under a rawhide blanket with their mate, made love, and fell asleep. They knew what they could accomplish by the cycle of the sun, which was focus on today, rest for tomorrow, and gently dream of and build ways to do things better. Trying to do anything more could have killed them or brought harm to their clan. They lived at their emotional, physical and spiritual capacity to survive, procreate, and evolve. Unlike today, they had very little extra time just to do nothing, pursue excess material gain, or practice mindfulness. Their focus was simply on surviving.

Today, things are different. In western worlds, we need not compete for food. Our pursuit of material wealth is not from the need to survive, but rather is a misplaced drive to gather more than we really need in order to protect and promote ourselves, the result of egoic, head-driven pursuits. We need to shift from head-driven to heart-driven relationships and cultures. Our very survival and ability to thrive depends on it, as we are “consumering” ourselves to death on community and ecosystem levels.

“Heart-to-heart.” These words convey using honesty, understanding and compassion to craft solutions to problems and to build relationships. By comparison, "toe-to-toe" connotes turning to violence to deal with conflict. "Head-to-head" invokes confrontation to solve differences. Most of the body part metaphors highlight a survival thinking that can and should now be forever changed.

Until about 200 years ago we had to literally fight for our survival. Consciousness and mindfulness were secondary to staying alive. Only in the past few decades have we created the comforts that enable us to contemplate how best to evolve. Today, we have the tools required to implement a needed change in how we treat each other, and in our approach to community.

The need to compete for game animals in the wild, to stave off warring tribes seeking our goods, or to protect our homes from marauding murderers is no longer necessary to survive or thrive in most parts of the world.  “Back then,” communities fought among themselves and against each other, as sustenance was king. Today, we could fisticuff in the produce aisle, guarding our turf and keeping fellow shoppers at bay in order to hoard all the lettuce. But, we have evolved and now understand that there are far better and peaceful ways to feed our clan. And, as ridiculous as territoriality in a grocery store or coffee shop or workplace sounds, don’t we still awkwardly protect our turf-be it house, money, or job-as if we were threatened like our distant ancestors?

There is no reason to violently or vociferously compete. Hoarding more than one really needs is not a matter of survival. Greed (of money, things, or places) is an outcome of a species that had to fight for survival. For thousands of years our hormones goaded us to fight for our survival. But now, those hormonal drives-that evolutionarily pushed us towards food, water, shelter, and procreation-are resulting in misplaced pursuits for more than we need. Excessive indulgence is an ego-driven behavior that can destroy the very environment we depend on for life. The need for more stuff causes toe-to-toe exchanges and head-to-head relationships that ultimately lead to one party suffering and the other, on a selfish and superficial level, to “succeeding.”

But what is success if it is at the cost of another, of community, and of our common growth and survival? Is thriving individually and elevating as a community truly possible if others are injured in this process, which is often the case when ego drives behaviors? Is toe-to-toe really necessary in business, relationships, and community? Shouldn’t heart-driven concern for others-where pure and good intentions lead-be at least equal to self-preservation? Isn't caring for one another what leads to true growth? Why can't hand-to-hand or head-to-head be driven away, like an ancient marauding tribe, and be forever replaced by heart-to-heart?