YOU SHARE 60% OF YOUR GENES WITH A BANANA

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And about 90% with a mouse.  So when you consider how much genetic material we share in common with our fellow humans, it’s a wonder that we can even tell one another apart.

Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, has a saying that has stuck with me over the years: “Shenpa is our kinship with others.”  Loosely translated, “shenpa” is our attachments – our hot buttons that impact our self-esteem, make us angry or fearful, and cause us to judge others.  Chodron’s viewpoint is that all humans are suffering in their own ways, and by this very circumstance, we are all connected as kin. 

No matter what our specific suffering – a bad boss, financial challenges, health issues, family problems – every action we take on a daily basis is done in an effort to decrease our suffering.  As humans, this is one thing we all share.

Chodron’s aim is to inspire compassion for others and reduce the human tendency to judge.  After all, does it make sense to judge if we are all fundamentally the same?  Judging others has become a common strategy for attempting to reduce our own suffering, because when we judge others, we automatically distance ourselves from them and convince ourselves that we are not the same.  This makes us feel less fearful, and in turn, we decrease our suffering.

Here is an example: On the news, we hear about a woman who was attacked late at night after leaving a bar in an intoxicated state.  This is scary to contemplate.  So, we distance ourselves from the scenario by judging the woman’s choices, because in our minds, this leads us to believe that this situation could never happen to us and we feel safer.  We decrease our suffering. Unfortunately, we also decrease our compassion.

We tend to do this on a small level every day when we gossip about the weird guy at work that no one likes, when we ignore the homeless woman on the street corner, or when we scoff at the teenager blasting his music while peeling out of the parking lot.   We judge because we don’t want to see these characteristics in ourselves, when in fact, at some point in our lives we could be (or even have been) in the same place. 

When you consider that humans have 99% of the same genes as chimpanzees, we can start to see how close we really are to one another, and strive to be more compassionate and less judgmental.  In the end, what we judge is what we fear.  So when we catch ourselves pointing out flaws in others, it’s a good time to ask ourselves what is missing or what we are afraid of in our own lives.

Discovering and overcoming our fears and living a more compassionate existence it a continuous challenge that takes much practice, strong self-awareness and incredible patience.  But perhaps it’s worth the effort because once we are free from our fears and can focus our energy on our dreams, there is really nothing we can’t achieve.

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