Science and spirit agree: we exist in a web of
interrelationship. Humanity is but one strand in the
vast network of animals, plants, mountains, oceans, and
air comprising our earthly home. Our well-being
depends on courtesy to one another, our survival on global
care. Karma turns on respect.
Common courtesy seems to have vanished. Take
cellphones--nobody can talk on them without disturbing
everyone around them. Surely this lack of
consideration is bad karma.
It's hard to put a karmic price on technology, but if
we could, cellphone use would run high. Bad phone
manners aren't a crime, but they brutalize quality of
life. What to do about that is another matter.
We don't seem to realize how far our voices carry or how
oblivious we are when we take calls while driving or
walking down the street. One thing you can do is be
mindful of your own cellphone use. If we were all as
careful as we'd like others to be, a more responsive ethic
would emerge. In the meantime, use any creative
means you can think of to bring cellphone users to their
senses--humor, surprise. And don't underestimate the
power of group pressure. On a bus recently a phone
user was being so obtrusive that another passenger finally
yelled at him to pipe down.
The entire bus broke out
in applause, and the man slunk off at the next stop.
We also need to lobby for more cellphone-free areas and
promote those that already exist, such as airplanes and
"quiet cars" on trains. As Christine Rosen
of the Ethics and Public Policy Center has suggested,
"We need to approach our personal technologies with a
greater awareness of how the pursuit of personal
convenience can contribute to collective ills."
Cellphone misuse is only one example of what seems to
be a widespread lack of awareness. In the city where
I live, parents use baby strollers like battering rams to
shove their way through crowds. And their
kids? They run amok in stores, in restaurants, on
public transportation. But if you say anything to
the parents, they accuse you of being anti-child.
Counterattack is a common ploy we all use to divert
attention from our own behavior. But before you take
parents to task, remember that most of them regard any
criticism of their children's behavior as a personal
insult, as well as an assault on them and their parenting
skills. Use diplomacy in such situations.
Children are easily distracted, so sometimes all it takes
to quiet them is to redirect their attention.
Parents are less likely to take offense if your
intervention is matter-of-fact and non-judgmental.
Easier said than done. Manners are a lost art
nowadays. Sometimes it's hard to have a civil
exchange. We demand respect from one another and get
mad if we don't get it. What's the answer?
Put simply, we have to realize that, friend or enemy,
we're all connected and that civility is our only shot at
not destroying one another. The upside to the
current manners crisis is that a new field is
emerging--etiquette counseling--and etiquette courses are
even cropping up in colleges. Clients for this new
brand of coaching include everyone from upwardly mobile
executives to children whose parents lack the patience--or
know-how--to pass along basic social skills.
Every culture has rules for proper behavior. What's
de rigueur might vary from one place to another, but
prominent on every list is courtesy. Mystic and
author Andrew Harvey notes that the Sufi code of conduct, adab,
rests on what one scholar described as a "profound
courtesy of the heart that arises from a deep relationship
with the divine and expresses itself in refined behavior
of all kinds with other beings." A person with adab
shows "tenderness toward all creation," Harvey
That sounds like a recipe for good karma. But
doesn't "tenderness for all creation" have a
limit? Would it mean, for instance, that I couldn't
bring sand home from the beach for my son's aquarium
because doing so would diminish the environment?
If everyone who went to the beach brought home a
bucket of sand, the beaches of the world might indeed be
diminished. But the oceans are continually grinding
up shells and stones to create new sand. Earth
replenished herself as long as we don't interfere too
much. The problem, of course, is that we've already
interfered way too much, defiling the natural world and
exhausting its resources, collectively accumulating very
bad karma as a result.
What's the solution? We can't stop consuming
It comes back to respect, to a basic regard for one
another and for everything--animal, vegetable, and
mineral--on the planet. When we truly grasp our
interdependence, we find it hard to ignore the fate of a
seagull or a stone or a Dinka tribesman.
has become a buzzword for fate—a glib way to
explain away everyday calamities, disappointments,
and triumphs. But, in fact, karma—which means
“action” in Sanskrit—involves free will and
conscious choice. It’s a fundamental concept in
Eastern thought, with an underlying principle
similar to the law of cause and effect: everything
we say and do has consequences.
Good Karma shows us how to take
responsibility for our words and deeds, to listen
to what our conscience is telling us, and to
behave in ways that won’t undermine our
prospects for happiness.