Col15_ConsiderateIt is often pondered how much the outside world influences us: our decisions, our senses of self and that which we elect as ‘worth striving for’. Less often considered is how much each of us, as individuals, influence the outside world; a concept denoted as “interconnectivity.”

Given today’s globalized and technology-driven marketplace, our connection to diverse human groups, from sea-to-sea, is undeniable. However, our imprint as a species does not merely end there. The air we breathe out, the sustenance we consume, the habitats we build and even the energies and moods we emit further influence all other forms of life inhabiting this planet we call home. In other words, no creature or species lives in autonomous isolation (humans are no exception), and as we discussed last week, life on earth is cyclical and deeply intertwined.

Now let me make clear my preface is not meant to serve as an argument for environmentalism nor karma, I’m simply trying to establish that the process of developing a psychologically mature mindset goes beyond simply contemplating “the self”. One must too learn his/her “position” in the natural world and how that “position” influences other forms of life within his/her immediate AND/OR peripheral surroundings. In doing so, one is able to learn how to evaluate and react to situations after a thorough and objective investigation of multiple perspectives. In other words, a key to psychological maturity is mastering the art of “being considerate”.

As psychology was borne from the amalgamation of one part philosophy, it only makes sense that we turn to the concept of Sartre’s existentialism, this week, in order to gain insight into the above outlined concept.

Though Sartre made no qualms about the fact he was an atheist, ironically the crux of his treatise can be summed up by the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” (Matthew 7:12, King James Bible). Specifically, because Sartre did not believe a divine being was ultimately predetermining our actions as well as our “essences”, he placed the onus on individuals to act responsibility AND to take responsibility for how they act. More than just that however, he felt that humans determined their own morality through their choices, in that an individual’s participation in an activity symbolized their condonation of that same activity. In simpler terms, if I choose to be rude toward others, I have no right to be offended if I receive the same treatment in return, as my original behaviour determined I considered it morally “a-okay” to act in this manner. To make reference to yet another popular biblical verse: “you reap what you sow,” (Galatians 6:7).

But as developmental psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg points out in his “Moral Stages of Development”, a true sense of personal ethics and responsibility is not merely defined by attempts to ‘play nice’ in order to avoid reprisal. Those who have accomplished the highest stage in Kohlberg’s moral development scheme known as “post-conventionality” believe in adhering to an unwritten social contract that mandates “working toward the benefit of all.” Of course, this high aim is only possible if we all collectively agree on upholding the same values…Judging by our past and ongoing cultural clashes, I don’t see this happening anytime soon. HOWEVER, that does not give you an excuse not to at least practise basic human decency, which I’d like to point out is transferrable (and appreciated) across human societies.

In her instructional hit, Using Your Values to Raise Your Child to Be an Adult You Admire, Dr. Harriet Heath outlines the following characteristics associated with “being considerate”:

1) having the ability to empathise and put yourself in “another’s shoes”

2) having the ability to predict how one’s actions will impact someone else and accordingly modulate one’s behaviours, if necessary

and 3) understanding what is “kindly” behaviour in your society/culture

Importantly, Heath points out that one of the most profound ways humans of all ages learn is through “modelling”. I hate to sound like a broken record, but if you want others to be considerate toward you, the first step is learning to partake in this behaviour yourself.

Before any of you start feeling as though I’m instructing you to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, I assure you I nor does anyone else expect you to become the next Gandhi or Mother Teresa. The lesson here is NOT about trying to solve all of the world’s problems or attempting to spread “goodwill” across the globe (though I definitely applaud anyone with said ambition). Instead, what I’m trying to impart is that beyond understanding yourself, what makes you tick and owning up to all of your strengths as well as faults, it’s essential to recognize how you affect others, moreover learn how you can maximize POSITIVE effects. Look. Listen. Learn. Live.