How do you feel about yourself? What are your beliefs about human nature? Are human beings inherently selfish, only concerned about their self interest and maybe those closest to them? Is humanity like a cancer, slowly destroying life on this planet? Or is there something deeper to our nature: Our ability to love, have compassion, our deep desire to connect with others, our vulnerability? Is it possible that despite all of the cruelty and destructive behavior, underneath it all humanity is basically good? In his new book The Shambhala Principle, best selling author Sakyong Mipham invites all of us to examine our own assumptions about human nature and society, and to challenge those assumptions. 

You just have to watch the news one evening to know that our planet is in big trouble. As a species we are facing overwhelming problems: climate change, economic crises, war, poverty, social injustices of all kinds, disease, the degradation of the quality of our food... What good does it do to examine our assumptions? How does that make any difference? On the surface it seems that thinking about our deepest held beliefs and assumptions is just a thought exercise. However, our most basic assumptions have a tremendous impact on our thoughts, feelings, behavior, how we lead our life, how we organize society, and how we approach the complex problems we are facing today.

In psychology lingo basic assumptions are called "core beliefs," "schemas," or "schemata." The tricky thing about these core beliefs is that we are generally not aware of what they are, but they exert a very powerful influence over our lives: how we think, feel, and act. For one thing, our core beliefs act like filters through which we perceive the world around us. A core belief causes us to selectively attend to information that confirms the truth of the belief, and selectively ignore the information contrary to the belief. They serve as biases in our perception and interpretation of the events in our life. An example of a very common bias is the "self serving bias," which causes people to attribute success to their own effort and ability, and failure to external circumstances they could not control. These core beliefs and biases further influence how we behave and the choices we make, which serves generally, again, to confirm the truth of the core belief. This is a well documented phenomenon known as "self fulfilling prophecy." We make our deepest held beliefs come true.

As a psychologist I have first-had experience of the powerful effects that changing core beliefs can have on the lives of people. I have seen people suffering from debilitating depression and crippling anxiety reexamine their deepest held beliefs about themselves, the world, and their future, and turn their lives around. It is amazing to see the power that thoughts and beliefs have on the wellbeing and the lives of my clients.

How we feel about ourselves and what we believe about others has far-reaching implications for how we parent, educate our children, and run our businesses. For example, if you assume that your child is a spoiled brat, who is misbehaving just to get what she wants and to manipulate you, you are going to parent very differently than when you assume that your child is in distress and is misbehaving because she does not have any other way to communicate this to you. If you believe that students basically dislike learning and have to be coerced to work hard in school, you are going to have a very different educational environment than if you believe that children have a natural love of learning that needs to be supported and nurtured. If you run a business and you assume that your employees are basically lazy and have to be coerced to work hard for the success of your business, you are going to be a very different manager than when you assume that your employees are decent and honest people, who will perform well if they are supported and given some autonomy. (I'm sure we have all had experiences with managers who operate from one those assumptions - I know I have!) You are going to have very different work environments, based on those differences in beliefs.

 
In The Shambhala Principle Sakyong Mipham challenges us to reconsider our beliefs about human nature and entertain the possibility that humanity is inherently, basically good, and that society itself is basically good. He uses examples from his own experience and the dialogue he had with his father growing up to share his own examination of his core beliefs about humanity. Considering the possibility of Basic Goodness could be the new self-fulfilling prophecy that has the power to turn the destiny of our planet and species to a more sustainable, peaceful, good human society. I invite you all to join me in this exploration!

Also check out an introductory video about The Shambhala Principle: