When you were growing up, you probably came across a bully or two. These were the kids that thought they could become a big shot by pushing people around or by calling them names. We all knew then that their meanness really only made them small in our eyes and that they were only bringing more misery to themselves.
Yet, when I look around at grown-ups, I see more bullies than on the playground. They are much more covert, but they are there . . . everywhere. By adulthood, of course, we have learned not to use fists, and we can remain polite even with perceived enemies (most of the time). But the bully’s mindset—the win-lose attitude—remains as an accepted “fact of life” in the mind of many adults.
Win-Win vs. Win-Lose
The inner bully wants to divide the world up into simple, dualistic categories: dumb and smart, cool and uncool, worthy and unworthy, weak and strong. All of these categories fit under the broader category of “winners and losers.” Life, in the eye of the bully, becomes about being one of the few winners who rise above the mass of losers.
It is no wonder that some children become bullies in every generation since win-lose is the lesson we tend to teach. In kindergarten, we teach about fairness and sharing and getting along with others, but what is the lesson after that, as children grow into adolescents and young adults? Just like the bully, while children are still very young, we adults start to send them messages about who is smart or dumb, or talented or not. “Life is tough, so fight hard!” we warn them as enter the “real world,” hoping that they will be among the few that rise.
The rare person with a win-win mindset sees a different possibility: a world where everyone can be nurtured and supported to be their best. This mindset is not about coddling the weak or dragging down the strong. Rather, it is about looking for the best solutions for the greatest number of people, not just for an individual. A win-win person has the foresight to know that helping others is helping themselves.
Being Widely Beneficial
In Korea, the win-win mindset is part of our founding philosophy. It is called “Hongik,” and it translates to “widely beneficial to all humanity.” Following this philosophy, we looked for ways to be useful and valuable to everyone, instead of just focusing only on our own interests. In spite of being vulnerably situated on a peninsula, our culture has survived for more than 5,000 years as a result, and in the modern era we have grown very quickly to become an economic powerhouse, in spite of our small size.
I believe this win-win approach can be applied by individuals, too, and is actually the most natural state of the human mind and heart. Most of us, when we examine what we truly want in life, realize that we want connection to others and to know that our life has done something good for the world. But this is hard to achieve if we continue with a win-lose approach to life. In fact, cultivating a win-win mentality in yourself and others might in itself be one of the best thing you can do for our world.
First Step: Realize Your ConnectednessAlthough you are ultimately most responsible for yourself, individuality is a bit of an illusion. All the choices you make and every action you take in the world has an effect on others, not just on yourself. The Earth is teaching us this lesson in no uncertain terms as we begin to see the effect of our self-centeredness, as plastics pile up in the ocean and temperatures slowly rise. Also, mental health problems, such as depression and anti-social behavior, have become widespread. Individually, our lives are so much better on the surface level as we enjoy our modern conveniences, such as disposable plastics and gas-powered transportation, but what is the cost?
The point here is not to feel guilty but rather to begin to remember our connection to others and to the Earth so we can make better decisions.
Step Two: Feel the Value of Your Soul . . . and Practice
Although there are global issues to consider, change must begin on the individual level. Day-to-day interactions are a big part of that, but don’t forget your relationship with yourself, too! Many of us play a win-lose game with ourselves, telling ourselves that we don’t measure up because of the comparisons we make to others. Being better or worse in some area of life does not add or detract from your soul, so begin to love yourself unconditionally, and then perhaps you can love others better, too.
If you can change your viewpoint from ego to soul in this way, you will begin to glimpse the source of our connection and the true value of every person you meet. And from that perspective, a win-win approach is completely normal and natural, the only sensible choice.
You have been trained by the ways of the world, however, to compete and to look for ways to outrun others, so be kind to yourself when you slip back into a win-lose stance. It will be especially hard when others treat you as inferior or as unworthy, so take those moments as important spiritual lessons. Just keep watching yourself and reorienting yourself toward your center, your soul.
This Is the Journey
What I am describing here is the defining element of the spiritual path, the journey back to our True Selves. I believe that we are all here to interact with each other for that purpose. It is ultimately a path that humanity as a whole must take if we are to find a peaceful way of existence on this planet. So, I invite you to take that journey, starting with one step at a time.