Being Together:  How to Live in Harmony with Everything
Joan Duncan Oliver


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 adds.

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 altogether.

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.

Karma 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. 


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