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  • Writer's pictureSean

A Force For Good

Updated: May 19, 2021

"Don't be discouraged by the terrible news we hear; in reality, that reflects a small portion of the human story. Beneath the ugly tip of that glacier lies a vast reservoir of sensitivity and kindness - and each of us can enlarge that goodness."

Those words from the Dalai Lama are a good reminder to us all in a world of constantly being barraged by negativity and kick off our look at Daniel Goleman's A Force For Good.

Who else is tired of so much negativity out there these days?

April's spirituality book takes us back to visit The Dalai Lama from the eyes of someone else; author and science journalist Daniel Goleman, who has worked extensively on topics like emotional intelligence and social intelligence, had the opportunity to work with the Dalai Lama as their paths crossed while studying the science behind mindfulness.

The Dalai Lama is remarkably interested in the science world despite his appearance as a monk; his fascination and curiosity with the world in a sense brings him closer to trying to understand the world while also making it better.

I found this book to be more practical when coming up with ideas on how to make our lives better and the lives of others around us better. The practice of mindfulness and meditation comes up; a prelude to his subsequent book Altered Traits where he brings the science discussion behind forward to the modern-day.

The need for continued compassion for others is top of mind for The Dalai Lama; those words above show that concern. If all we do is believe everything we see and that negativity surrounds us why bother to try and do good for others? I'm reminded of Chris Bail's book Breaking the Social Media Prism and the fact that moderates tend to check out of the debate because of this very problem.

The Dalai Lama is relentlessly optimistic though and shares this message throughout the book while asking us to look within to better understand our own destructive emotions:

"noticing the emotional stirrings that signal destructive emotions, then thinking about what those stirrings might indicate - particularly fresh perspectives on our feelings rather than the same old rote thoughts that usually go with them."

It's not enough to accept our emotions but to pause, look at their nature, and perhaps let them go or realize we are caught in a pattern that keeps happening.

This has been one of the biggest takeaways for meditation from me; the ability to be caught by whatever emotion but then pause and recognize what is happening. Meditation practice provides a window into those patterns and helps to course-correct going forward.

This care about our own destructive emotions coincides with his belief that we must cultivate our own self-compassion before we can truly care for others:

"To cultivate genuine compassion, we need to take responsibility for our own care and have concern for everyone's suffering - including our own."

The notion of not casting stones in glass houses comes to mind whereby we may carry baggage and anger towards ourselves that then gets projected out into the world despite our best intentions.

This book also brought back to mind an idea I'd heard years ago; the narcissism of minor differences. In essence, we tend to focus on such trivial distinctions between people who are for the most part completely alike. These distinctions then allow us to exaggerate and justify our hostility towards them. Again, Chris Bail's thoughts on social media come to mind. If we fall in with a certain ideology or group we tend to amplify those differences in our speech and actions to belong to the group. As Goleman points out:

"As the bias hardens into outright prejudice, anything that disconfirms the negative steretype gets dismissed or ignored."

So what does all that mean? This is a worthwhile book to read on The Dalai Lama and I'd rank it higher than the previous book by Pico Iyer if only for the reason that it gives more insight into what we can do as individuals to better the world. Goleman has written a book capturing the essence of The Dalai Lama's message while trying to cater to a Western audience and I think he succeeds.


Pair this book with Pico Iyer's The Open Road for a more in-depth look at the life of The Dalai Lama. If you want a little more meditation in your life check out these selections, and if you are interested in Daniel Goleman's work on meditation you may want to check out Altered Traits.

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