Garrett Riegg – USA
Unity and ITC – Avoiding ego conflicts
Some degree of “unity” is essential to every organization of human beings. Whether in families, clubs, lodges, cities, or nations, we crave a sense of unity because it includes peace, harmony and beneficial cooperation. For Theosophists especially, unity ties into brotherhood and to our one Source of All: the transcendent spiritual aspect of the universe.
Sadly, in pursuing unity we sometimes oppress or manipulate others to get our own way or our own vision of what is good for the group. A superficial, forced unity is contrary to human dignity and free will.
Despite our high aspirations for unity and harmony, we human beings are constantly in conflict. Whether it’s a minor misunderstanding or a bloody war, we are impelled by our lower natures to strive for our own goals and unique perspectives. In this striving, we can feel threatened by competition, criticism or just different viewpoints. This causes hurt feelings, arguments, lost friendships and even schisms.
How do we achieve meaningful, positive unity without giving up individual initiative and free expression? From sixteen years of International Theosophy Conferences, I would suggest a few of the many principles that foster positive unity:
1) Accepting good enough. It’s great to strive for perfection in your own life but expecting others to have identical priorities is a formula for conflict and heartache. The best part of cooperation is that we support each other, especially when someone “falls down on the job.” If we can help them in a positive way to do better, that is great. Sometimes for the sake of harmony we just have to accept that a project is late, or less than perfect.
2) Criticism rarely works. Certainly we need to know where we made mistakes but it takes great diplomacy not to blame the problem on anyone and to genuinely accept in our own hearts that other people are doing the best they can. We don’t know what other challenges they have: health, family, finances or even a difficult childhood that may make them react irrationally. Being non-judgmental is the greatest gift that we can give other people. And that doesn’t mean we give up judging policies, procedures, actions, etc. We just don’t make it personal. It is hard to avoid implicitly criticizing someone unless we have raised our own level of perception to that of buddhi-manas. That means that we genuinely see others as our equals, deserving our respect and compassion. When someone fails, we should be more concerned to find out what’s going on with that person rather than immediately trying to blame or problem solve.
3) People matter. In The Key to Theosophy Madame Blavatsky said: “It is not what is done but the spirit in which the least thing is done that counts.” Without that spirit of mutual support and love we lose our enthusiasm and creativity. For me, that is the real goal of unity and cooperation: to foster the best in each of us as we work together.
I have painfully learned that I need to focus not so much on our goals as on the thoughts and feelings of the people working with me toward that goal. Whether we are trying to “produce” a conference, an article, or new by-laws; the process, for me, is more important than the resulting product. It is not the perfection of our outward activities that counts. Rather it is the sense of contribution and appreciation that each member of the team experiences.
We are going to leave behind our bodies, personalities, titles, organizations and achievements. So let’s focus on what will be enduring: our loving thoughts and communion with other beings.
4) Avoid being self-righteous. Sometimes we are so devoted to our own vision of truth so we are often unaware of how strident we sound to others.
5) Tune in to feelings. Feelings are important. We learn in Theosophy not to give in to our passing and changeable feelings. We learn to control our emotions. Still, we have to see our feelings as warnings from our subconscious. We need to be aware of the feelings of others, to know what they need. As Madame Blavatsky said: “we are trying to effect a reform in human nature” (The Key to Theosophy, page 231).
This is why I love ITC: it provides opportunities for people to grow not just their intellect but also their heart connection with other people who share a Theosophical outlook. Unity arises naturally from sharing with empathy. Good lectures bring our minds together; and working together in small groups allows us to know each other more deeply. This is why ITC plans more year-round sharing through our new affinity groups (History, Literature, Law, Arts, etc.) and our committees (Education, Mysticism, Science, etc.)
I would like to see all Theosophical organizations flourish as they spread the message of Theosophy. With spiritual unity, respect and cooperation across our different Theosophical groups we can move the world toward unity and brotherhood among all peoples, nations, religions and races.
Now is the time!