Jen is the central idea in the teachings of Confucius, and refers to a complex mixture of kindness, humanity and respect that transpires between people. The jen ratio is the relationship of positive emotions like compassion, gratitude and sympathy to negative emotions like anger, cynicism, contempt.
The jen ratio can be measured in an individual, a family, a neighborhood, a company, a city, or a nation. High jen ratios, whether in an individual or an organization, result in people being happier, living more meaningful lives.
In his book Born to be Good, Dacher Keltner describes the scientific studies now being done at the University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, an interdisciplinary research center devoted to the scientific understanding of happy and compassionate individuals, strong social bonds, and altruistic behavior. (Check out Greater Good magazine online, which carries stories of this research, here: Greater Good Magazine.)
The big news discovery is that what often makes us happiest is bringing the good in others to completion. This is a profound notion – that not only are we happiest when we focus on others – but when we’re in service to them.
The notion of jen is deeper and more nuanced than “happiness.” Emotions like compassion, embarrassment, gratitude, and awe are the substance of high jen ratios and a meaningful life.
I find myself thinking about this jen ratio in all kinds of practical ways. There are people I know who definitely have a high jen ratio – they are upbeat and responsive to others. There are others with a low jen ratio. These people tend to be negative and stuck. Similarly, I “feel” the ambience when I go into a store or restaurant. In businesses with a high jen ratio one feels relaxed, welcomed.
Thinking of of the jen ratio gives new meaning to my profession as a coach. For the last 26 years I have felt so lucky to be in this business. What a delight it is to help others become their best selves, move toward whatever feels like completion for them. How blessed I am to have a built-in jen-raising job!
Think of the really big ramifications of high jen ratios.
“High jen ratios promote a society’s economic and ethical progress. Jen becomes viral through behaviors that spread goodness from one individual to the next, thus setting in motion reinforcing, reciprocal cooperation.” Keltner
Think of how the world could be changed just by raising our jen ratios!
- What is your jen ratio? (Think of emotions that describe you best. Put the positive ones in the numerator and the negative in the denominator. Which is strongest?)
- How does your jen ratio differ at home and at work?
- How might you raise your jen ratio?
- How might you help others raise theirs?