From Competitive Strife to Compassionate Life -
How Receptive & Responsive Ways of Being & Becoming Transform the ‘Struggle for Existence’
Many of us human beings have been brought up to believe that life is a competitive struggle for existence while at the same being told that it is ‘good’ to feel and act upon a strong sense of compassion for one’s fellow human beings and other living creatures. How, we might wonder, can both these very different stories be true, and if one of them is false, how can we decide which one this is?
Certainly, these stories have very different psychological, social and environmental consequences and can lead to profoundly conflicting political and social ideologies. The story of competitive struggle leads us to divide ‘me’ from ‘you’, ‘us’ from ‘them’, ‘rich’ from ‘poor’ and ‘humanity’ from ‘Nature’. The story of compassion leads us to devote our energies and finances to helping ‘others in need’, potentially at the expense of our own prosperity and health. We might question ‘what is the cost of care and is it too much to bear?’ Should we pay taxes to support, for example, a ‘National Health Service’ and if so, how much and is there a limit to the monetary value we place on an individual, ultimately mortal, human life?
To resolve the conflict between these stories, we need to understand how they arise. The story of competitive struggle has become familiar to many of us, and incorporated into our economic systems, as a product of the Darwinian concept of ‘natural selection’ as ‘the survival of the fittest’. Few of us are aware, however, that this concept depends upon a false perception of reality, which objectively isolates an individual organism from the habitat upon which it depends to sustain its life. Such ‘objectification’ causes the organism – and indeed the human person – to be regarded as a ‘machine’ or ‘commodity’ that may or may not be ‘fit’ for its purpose as a survival unit. Those ‘not fit’ are unable to reproduce successfully and so are forcibly excluded from the evolutionary process. Not much room for compassion there!
But there is a very different and more realistic way of understanding the evolutionary process, which is naturally inclusive, not exclusive. In this ‘natural inclusion’, the organism is a receptive & responsive inclusion of, not an exception from its habitat and its life simultaneously shapes and is shaped by others within its vicinity. We each live in one another’s world and together co-create its reality as a continuously evolving flow, much as a river system both shapes and is shaped by the landscape through which it courses. Our true reality is that we live in receptive & responsive natural communion as fluidly distinct identities, not objectively isolated entities. Our mobile bodily boundaries distinguish but do not fix us within the continuous space that receptively pools all together. We are not and never alone or all one but both individual and collective expressions of the natural energy flow that brings us to love and to life as the true purpose of our existence. We live together receptively & responsively, in common passion, not win-or-lose competition. We understand the true nature of democracy as governance for the common good of all, not for the good of an elite, majority or minority set apart from the rest.
To combine receptivity & responsiveness, rather than exclude one from the other, renders us both vulnerably alive and flexibly resilient, neither impregnable fortresses nor fragile pushovers. We give as we receive and receive as we give to and from our natural neighbours and neighbourhood as neither selfish winner take-alls nor selfless loser give-alls. We come with receptive & responsive hearts, as warriors and nurturers, prepared to care both for ourselves and others in need and to ward off violation of our kith and kin, until death releases our bodily energy for redistribution to new life to come. We live as compassionate kindred spirits, not social and political thugs.