In the last week I’ve had 3 experiences which in one way were very similar: as examples of human interactions at their best.
On the face of it, the 3 situations were very different: a job interview, a funeral and a meal with a group of Baha’i.
In the beginning . . .
Those who know the Baha’i will not be surprised to hear that my meal with full of meaningful conversation, genuine and deep engagement and a nobility of spirit. These wonderful people are known for practicing what they preach and for demonstrating, in their day-to-day lives, their spiritual presence. Indeed, how we might do this was one of the topics of conversation that evening!
Over the years I’ve had similar experiences with groups of Brahma Kumaris and of Quakers. Each of these 3 religious/spiritual organisations make a particular effort to take their work out into their local communities and into the most needy of places around the world. Of course, one could also point out that many communities of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists (or any other religious or spiritual organisation) also do the same, and deserve much respect for doing so. One might debate the extent to which this happens in some groups compared to others and also the inclusiveness of the activities and engagement and related beliefs . . . but that is not the focus of this particular article. When it comes to demonstrations of human unity, it can be found as a tenant underlying all major faiths and philosophies.
At the end . . .
I do enjoy a good funeral. For one reason, it’s accepted that you can have a cry (a natural and healthy way to express ones feelings) and to reminisce, to talk about things that have perhaps been buried for decades. It’s a chance for deeper discussions, for meaningful engagement, particularly with friends and family one may not have seen for years. Despite that, the connections will immediately be there: be it genetic, the bond of good neighbours or that rapport of a life-long friend. Not all funerals, unfortunately, are like this, but this one was . . . a good funeral.
This may, at least in part, be because the host family are Lancastrians: one of the regions of the UK often considered particularly friendly and helpful. And so they were: no thanks to Google Maps, I was getting lost finding my way between the tram station and crematorium. On quite a few occasions I stopped and asked a local where I needed to go: the responses were also helpful and accurate but also genuinely friendly. You get nice folks in Lancashire.
But then, so do you in Wales, Northamptonshire, the Algarve (Portugal – all places I’ve lived), Penang (Malaysia) and numerous other places I’ve visited. Of course, you could bump into a grumpy person, or even a nasty person, pretty much anywhere in the world, but my experience is that, at heart, most folk are decent. Greet them with respect and an open-heart and that’s what you’ll get in return. Even in a job interview . . .
In the middle . . .
Many work situations can be sadly lacking in basic human compassion and interviews have, of necessity, to be challenging and intense. But my latest interview was an example of being firm but kind. That I had travelled all morning to attend was particularly appreciated and, just as I engaged with what they were trying to do, so they, my prospective employer and colleagues, engaged with me and my experiences. Yes, they had specific questions to ask and boxes to be ticked, but this particular interview went beyond that. I didn’t get that job but I was left feeling that this was somewhere I could enjoy working.
At the heart . . .
At the funeral and in the interview I was pleased to be amongst folk I described in my PhD thesis as ‘naturally transcendent’. Like the Baha’is they were genuine and caring, engaging and responsive, recognising the common unity between all human-beings. The difference is that they didn’t talk about it, nor would many of them have described themselves as ‘spiritual’ or committed to an ‘evolving consciousness’. They just were. The lovely people I met were just being their whole true self and treating others as they would hope to be treated. Isn’t that what being human is all about?
At the wake, as we shared personal stories of coping with heath issues and the challenges of life generally, we agreed that often all we can do to get through is to find something to smile or laugh about. We didn’t use the words soul or spirit, but we knew what we meant and what living with spirit meant.
At the interview we discussed how to make things happen, how to assure the success of projects. We agreed that a big part of this is to listen, to make an effort to understand the different perspectives of those involved. We didn’t use the words love or compassion, but that’s what we were taking about and, beneath the words, we knew that.
We don’t have to Be Spiritual to be spiritual. We certainly don’t need to talk about God, to express the divine in life. In their own way a large number of individuals are getting on with being decent human beings, naturally, in their own way, in their day-to-day lives. I might call it naturally transcendent or implicit spirituality, but it reminded me that we can often make a good impression (at many levels) not by explicitly talking about something, but by demonstrating in . . . in how we live our lives.