A few days ago I was in a leadership workshop and we were discussing the narratives that influence our lives.
Narratives are stories about the way that life is and have been handed down to us by our parents, schools, friends and culture. Often, but not always, these narratives are very useful and show us how to survive and function well in a particular culture, time and place.
The reason we were discussing narratives in a leadership workshop is that seeing and understanding how they operate in our lives can be extremely liberating and can prevent a lot of unnecessary suffering for us and those around us. Seeing though our narratives also makes a space for us to discover other ways of being in the world that are closer to our own heart and thus more authentic.
By themselves narratives are neither good or bad, they are just stories, helpful in certain situations and places, unhelpful at other times. They can, however, be dangerous, disastrous even, when they blind us to the actually reality of a situation.
The was a lot a talk during the workshop about being “human” - the fact that we live and function in the space of language. As a long-time practitioner of Zen meditation and koans, I know there is also a place outside of language and thought where we also reside, where everything and all “beings” reside. It’s a very intimate place of “not knowing”. So an another narrative that came to mind for me during the workshop was one that I have been thinking about for quite a while and touches me deeply. It’s the narrative that we are “human” beings versus “sentient" beings.
The consequence of blindly believing the narrative that we are “human” beings rather than “sentient" beings leads to much suffering for those who share the planet Earth with us. When we see our selves as separate and distinct “human” beings we more easily ignore or create suffering for other sentient beings, beings that care for their young and form social communities just like we do.
Beings that are sentient, suffer, experience joy and share the same basic instinct for survival that we do. The darkest implication of the believing this narrative is that we feel free to kill and experiment on other beings. We also use and destroy our environment as if its just another disposable consumer product. This is clearly a narrative that not only has serious implications for the survival of our species but also for the survival of all life.
This is just a very brief introduction to the implications of being unconscious about holding a “human” versus “sentient" being narrative. The interesting thing is that when we become conscious of this narrative and explore its implications - we change and often we become motivated to show and help others live in a more authentic and wholesome way. This is leadership.
Here are two people who saw the implications of an overly human centric narrative and consequently lived lives that touched the world so deeply that we still feel their presence today. They are Martin Luther King Jr. and Leonardo Da Vinci. This is how they responded to this narrative that was passed down to them.
“One day the absurdity of the almost universal human belief in the slavery of other animals will be palpable. We shall have then discovered our souls and become worthier of sharing this planet with them.” Martin Luther King Jr.
“I have learned from an early age to abjured the use of meat, and the time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men.” Leonardo Da Vinci
When we touch the true essence of life, we change. If we develop ourselves as leaders, we can help the world change as well. It's a beautiful calling.