Finding Common Ground Between Different Philosophies

I love figuring out where different worldviews overlap. I find it fascinating to identify the common ground between seemingly disparate ideas, people, and ways of thinking.

It’s clear that there are many different lenses through which we can make sense of the world and explain our experience. This is also true within virtually any defined field of study. Often, we do this by using conceptual frameworks, which I will elaborate on in another blog post. Though these frameworks may vary in detail and level of resolution, each does an adequate job of explaining the domain it sets out to explain.

For example, let’s say you wanted to learn how best to live in the world and interact with others. You could internalize the principles of Buddhism then go out and make sense of the world through that framework. Doing so will help you decide how to act in certain situations, how to treat others, etc. And it will likely work well for you, provided you take it seriously.

Alternatively, you could take a different approach. You could forget Buddhism altogether and instead study the findings of modern psychology then go out and make sense of the world through that framework. Doing so will also help you decide how to act in certain situations, how to treat others, etc. This, too, will likely work well for you.

The process by which each of these frameworks helps you may differ but they will both achieve a similar goal in the end.

Here’s one more example:

Long before the scientific revolution, ancient people in both the East and the West thought the world was made up of four basic substances: earth, water, air, and fire. Of course, science eventually developed a more sophisticated system for classifying atoms through the periodic table. However, the most common states of matter of these elements are still roughly the same. Only now, we use different terminology: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma.

This is an instance of the same phenomenon being described through a different -- albeit more precise -- framework.

I once came across a quote from a Hindu monk named Swami Vivekananda that articulates this idea beautifully and succinctly (though, admittedly, I'm not familiar with the rest of his personal philosophy or teachings). The quote is this:

“Truth can be stated in a thousand different ways, yet each one can be true.”

To be clear, I’m not claiming that all frameworks describe the truth equally well, just that they sometimes describe the same thing in different ways. That’s interesting to me.

A Navy Seal and a Spiritual Guru Walk Into a Bar...

This phenomenon happens among individuals too. I love observing how different people express the same fundamental idea in different ways. It is in this overlap where much wisdom can be found.

One example that tickles me is the respective philosophies of two unexpected men: spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle and retired U.S. Navy Seal Jocko Willink. (I also touch on this in my conversation with Daniel DiPiazza on my podcast).

Jocko Willink

 

Jocko Willink was born and raised in the United States. He is a self-described “knuckle-dragger” and, by all accounts embodies the archetypal military-superhero. He is a real life G.I. Joe, complete with a rock-solid 230-pound physique and hardcore attitude. He often talks about the lessons he’s learned in combat and their practical application in everyday life.


Eckhart Tolle

 

Eckhart Tolle was born in Germany, studied at an Ivy-League school in England and lives in Canada. He is a quiet, small, and soft-spoken man who, by all accounts, embodies the archetypal enlightened spiritual master. A real life Yoda, complete with pithy maxims and an air of wisdom. He often talks about cultivating present awareness and elevating the consciousness of the planet.


Clearly, these are two completely different people with two completely different backgrounds. Yet, they both arrived at the same core philosophy independent of one another. Perhaps not surprisingly, this core philosophy is one that has been expressed by many other cultures and schools of thought in various ways.

I've found that when the same principle keeps popping up in various traditions and cultures across time, that means it's probably something worth paying attention to.

When the same principle keeps popping up in various traditions and cultures across time, that means it’s probably something worth paying attention to.

The philosophy they share speaks to dealing with adversity. It can be roughly summed up through their following respective quotes:

Jocko Willink:

“How do I deal with setbacks, failures, delays, defeats, or other disasters? I actually have a fairly simple way of dealing with these situations, summed up in one word: ‘Good.’ When things are going bad, there’s going to be some good that will come from it.
Oh, the mission got canceled? Good. We can focus on another one.

Didn’t get the new high-speed gear we wanted? Good. We can keep it simple.

Didn’t get promoted? Good. More time to get better.

Didn’t get funded? Good. We own more of the company.

Didn’t get the job you wanted? Good. Go out, gain more experience, and build a better resume.

Got injured? Good. Needed a break from training.

Got tapped out? Good. It’s better to tap out in training than tap out on the street.
Got beat? Good. We learned.

Unexpected problems? Good. We have to figure out a solution.

...Now, I don’t mean to say something trite; I’m not trying to sound like Mr. Smiley Positive Guy. That guy ignores the hard truth. That guy thinks a positive attitude will solve problems. It won’t. But neither will dwelling on the problem...Accept reality, but focus on the solution.”


Eckhart Tolle:

“Whatever the present moments contains, accept it as if you had chosen it.”
“When you complain, you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation, change the situation, or accept it. All else is madness.”

What is the underlying principle that connects these philosophies? As far as I can tell, it is this:

You can’t control the situation but you can control how you respond to it. Acceptance leads to inner peace.

I don’t really have a tidy conclusion to draw here, other than simply sharing something I've observed and that I find interesting. What’s your takeaway from this? Have you noticed this before?