Do the Right Thing

Spirit, science, and health

Ethics, religion, and spirituality calls us to be better than who we are

Be part of the solution rather than part of the problem

Left to our own devices without any ethical, moral, religious, or spiritual compass, we wouldn't do so well as individuals, families, communities or as a culture. In Freudian terms, it would likely be "all id all the time." Ethics, religion, and spirituality (at their best) calls us to be better than who we are.

People too often see others as either all good or all bad. They are either part of our team or part of another team that we don't like so much: an "in group" and an "out group." Democrats vs Republicans, Tea Party vs Coffee Party, Red State vs Blue State, Yankees vs Red Sox, true believers vs infidels....us vs them.  There are a variety of good reasons why this is the case and both social and evolutionary psychology have much to say about it. Rather than "us vs them" we need to see more of "we."

Easier said than done for sure.

Ethical principles, religious traditions (again at their very best), and spiritual practices helps to rise above and beyond ourselves in a way that is more compassionate, loving, gracious, and generous to all. We need to nurture this way of being in our own way and within our traditions to continue working to be better than who we are. May I suggest that if we aren't being compassionate and gracious, then something is very wrong.

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Sadly and tragically, religion can also bring out the very worst in people. All of the major religious traditions have had their share of scandal, atrocities, and egrecious behavior. Religion can be part of the problem for sure as well as part of the answer. Thus, religion can be a double edge sword...bringing out the very best and the very worst in people. Too often we hear only about religon bringing out the worst in people: anger, hate, self rightousness. I for one want to have nothing to do with that part of religion. Sadly, we don't hear about the parts that bring out the best in people. The kindness, the graciousness, the compassion, the soup kitchens, the working for the greater good, the solidarity with others (especially with those who struggle).  These stories don't tend to make the news.  Yet they are very much part of the traditions. Authors, Karen Armstrong and Huston Smith for example both well articulate these qualities in the various religious traditions.

In my new edited book that will be released this summer, Contemplative Practices in Action: Spirituality, Meditation, and Health [http://www.greenwood.com/catalog/A2670C.aspx], expert authors from all of the religious traditions discuss the research and practice of a wide variety of contemplative practices that assist in stress management, wellness, and how they can be used to bring out the best in people.  

We must listen to the call in all of the faith traditions to be better than who we are...to be more compassionate, loving, gracious, and generous.  Contemplative practices, broadly defined, can greatly help with this goal. Our future and our children's future may ultimately depend on it. Can you do your part and be part of the solution rather than part of the problem? 

Thomas Plante, PhD, ABPP, is the Augustin Cardinal Bea, SJ University Professor at Santa Clara University and Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University.

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