I recently had the pleasure of listening in on Richard Gere’s conversation with Matthieu Ricard at 92Y, and learned the simple secret to create a positive shift in your life and the lives of others. Matthieu shared what inspired him to write his new book, Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World, and explains how the heart of Buddhist practice is wisdom and compassion. His book is the culmination of everything he has learned and experienced.
“We need a common concept to bring together a better world” and while compassion may seem like a simple solution, Matthieu said if more people adapted the compassionate mindset it would reshape the world we live in.
When Richard asked Matthieu how to generate a genuine collective sense of compassion, he said to take a cognitive approach. Ask yourself: “What is the reason that makes you have consideration for others?” What is your true motivation for doing something? First and most importantly, he said, you have to value others. There is a major difference between being altruistic and maximizing your personal interest.
Wanting to be happy and healthy is not selfish. It’s a natural aspiration, but to obtain happiness at the expense of others is selfish. Altruism is having a sincere intention to bring about happiness by being the cause of happiness rather than just experiencing it moment to moment.
“Some people might be confused about the cause of happiness because they neglected the inner condition for flourishing,” Matthieu said.
Richard Gere said that after his dear friends had their first child, they wondered how they would teach this child to share the same spiritual truths they believe in, to which the father answered, “We have to teach them to value the life of an insect.” Matthieu expands on this idea by saying we teach equality by leveling down discrimination and we have to teach by example.
Richard then asked Matthieu if there was such a thing as absolute altruism?
Matthieu explains that absolute altruism would be a community of selfless people working together. “People who like to cooperate could be more prosperous as a group because altruistic people love to team together. They like to share information; they’re happy when someone else is successful.” In comparison, if you take a collective group of selfish people, they will be less prosperous in the long term because teamwork aids to our survival. It would seem that cooperation should be more favorable in big cities rather than merciless competition.
Matthieu ends by quoting Martin Luther King Jr. in saying, “It’s up to us to choose if we want to walk in the darkness of destructive selfishness or in the light of creative altruism.”