written by Maria D’Souza
I believe in being a loving person. In cultivating my capacity for unconditional love and living each day with the primary goal of being loving and compassionate in every action, in every word, thought, and moment.
For most of my life, I believed the end game was ‘doing one’s best’ and working to achieve a stable and fulfilling livelihood, a happy family, being involved in one’s community, living one’s dreams, fulfilling one’s potential, effecting positive change in the world, being a loving person–that these were the elements of happiness and success in life.
What I’ve come to believe over the past few years, though, is that the part about being a loving person isn’t just one piece, or the finishing touches of the puzzle—it’s the whole point of the puzzle.
Why do I believe this? Someone in my life challenged me, by example, to examine my core values and how my daily activities and priorities stacked up with my professed belief in the importance of being a loving person. Heading into my 30’s, I thought I was doing a pretty decent job of being a good person, and life was good—I was passionate about my career and making a difference through geriatrics and public health, I valued my family and friends, I enjoyed good health and an active lifestyle, I was involved in my community, and I was looking forward to finding the right partner with whom to start a family. However, when I examined my life more closely, I realized that in many ways my daily grind was characterized by a narrow focus on my daily responsibilities, with little more than vague good intentions for really practicing love and compassion.
At first, I resisted this alternative way of thinking, and argued that focusing so completely on “being a loving person” was naïve and irresponsible in its neglect of certain realities on this planet that need a lot more than some new age notions of peace and love.
But on the other hand, I was intrigued and bothered by the subtle misalignment I had uncovered between my daily activities and the values I held to be most important deep down.
I began a meditation practice to increase my self-awareness, and to help me to maintain my deeper values at the forefront of my daily consciousness. Gradually, instead of beginning each day focused on the myriad items on my to-do list, I started focusing on the human interactions, and I began to see some interesting things. I noticed the many missed opportunities I had each day to make a deeply positive difference in the lives of the people in my immediate sphere—while ironically being absorbed in various tasks and responsibilities to purportedly ‘make a difference’ in the world.
I began investing more purposefully in the people around me—taking the time to stop and chat for a few minutes with people at work about how things were going with genuine interest, even when I felt very busy and stressed. And pausing when I felt myself getting agitated about the tone of an e-mail or someone’s seemingly snide remark, to try to understand what factors might have motivated their actions, or whether it was possible that I had misunderstood their intent altogether. Where once I would have unwittingly reacted to various triggers, I was developing new patterns of being loving and compassionate, giving people the benefit of the doubt, reaching out with a friendly tone, or just being more patient and open to understanding perspectives other than my own.
My daily interactions became much more fulfilling, and I felt much more aligned with my core values at the end of each day. Also, I found that I was able to think more clearly about the system as a whole and make better leadership decisions from this vantage point of really prioritizing people and being a loving person. Unexpectedly, I noticed a transformation in my effectiveness as a leader, as I perhaps became more respected and trusted as a result of my shift in perspective.
So, while I am still pursuing my career interests, planning to start a family, to be healthy and active in my community, I’m no longer pursuing these things solely as ends in and of themselves. I believe that they are just as much the means to the end of learning to be a more loving person. That every moment, every thought, every word, every action is an opportunity, a challenge to practice love and compassion. This I believe.