Defining the 7 Core Areas (Your Environmental Core Area)

Goal:  To grow your Environmental Core Area, which includes your thoughts, feelings, behavior and experiences about intentional, passionate, purposeful and fruitful living to affect the world in a significant manner.

“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” – Galatians 5:14 (TNIV)

The Importance of this Core Area:  I’d venture to say this could be the most difficult (but perhaps most fruitful and sweetest) core area to work in, because it requires the insight, knowledge, energy, investment and wisdom gained from your labor in the other core areas to consistently and effectively accomplish your overall goal(s) in this core area. Allow me to offer a few insights about this.

First, to pull this off effectively, that is, to accomplish your goal of fulfilling the 2nd Greatest commandment (“to love your neighbor as yourself”), you’ll want and need “fruit” from your Spiritual Core Area to skillfully discern who, what, when and how you’ll demonstrate love in a humane manner that meets the need(s) of your neighbor, who is typically the person in closest proximity to you.  However at this time, in this Environmental Core Area, “your neighbor” could be someone living next door to you, down the street, in your workplace, on the other side of town, or on the other side of the world.  In addition, in your effort to fulfill your goal or “calling” to love your neighbor as yourself, you may find it helpful to draw spiritual empowerment from your God to remain inspired, encouraged and committed to patiently “stick around” to deliver (like the Good Samaritan did) care, attention, compassion and what appears to be life-preserving behaviors to your neighbor. So, achieving your goals in this Environmental Core Area could be helped by insights, empowerment and wisdom gained from your Spiritual Core Area.

Second, loving your neighbor is more likely to occur when the best of your Cognitions from your Cognitive Core Area are wisely and strategically used to comprehend and evaluate what their complex needs are, then brainstorm ideas and solutions with them (if possible), then determine what your role might be in helping to meet their need(s). Keep in mind the best of everyone’s thinking occurs when you take steps to cultivate good interpersonal neurobiology in your encounter(s) with whom you’re talking, working with or serving.  Cultivating good interpersonal neurobiology is more likely to be realized when you integrate and practice the insights derived from your middle prefrontal cortex, which is accessed by practicing the six “Fruitful tools” we discussed in the previous post (“Defining the 7 Core Areas: your Social/Relational Core Area”).  

A final example is from your Emotional Core Area, where the rich and curative ingredients of empathy, sympathy and compassion could be among the top 10 values, virtues or principles you’ll furnish to your neighbor, because as told in the parable of the Good Samaritan  (Luke 10: 25 – 37), your neighbor may be in some form of distress or hurt and in need of a safe and therapeutic encounter to commence their healing.  In summation, in order to provide effective assistance to meet the needs of the neighbor(s) you’ll encounter in this Environmental Core Area (or “row in the garden”) most likely you’ll need to draw deeply upon the fruit you’ve grown and been edified by, in order to deliver healthy, fruitful and edifying behaviors to others in the world you live in

Perhaps this is why the 2nd Greatest Commandment is prioritized and positioned as the second greatest because if the fruit you’ve grown in your first 5 Core Areas has proven to be beneficial and helpful to you (due to living according to the 1st Greatest and the “1.5” Commandments – Love God then love yourself), then the next logical action is to benevolently share that which could also prove to be beneficial and helpful to your neighbor. Does this make sense to you?  If good insight, energy, resources and wisdom have been cultivated in you due to being connected to a loving and generous God, then I think the natural next step would be for you to use the best of your energy to distribute the love He has grown in you to your neighbors. As the above-mentioned scripture infers, if we get the first two commandments correct then more than likely the others will fall into place and will also be accomplished sufficiently. So, what exactly does this “distribution of love to my neighbors” look like?  Glad you asked!

“Heal (Therapeuo) the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give” – Matthew 10: 8 (TNIV)

No matter where you go in the world to practice loving your neighbor as yourself, I’d like to suggest it’ll go better for you if develop the mindset to practice “Therapeuo,” (which is our English word for “Heal” in the verse directly above).  In this passage of scripture where Jesus sent out the 70 disciples to engage in ministry processes with the neighbors they’d encounter, one of the roles He wanted them to fulfill was “to be a Therapist.” The Therapon (Therapist) provides the Therapeia (Therapy) and the outcome is intended to be Therapeuo (Therapeutic). Therapon (or, becoming a Therapist who engages in Therapeutic behaviors) simply means “to provide the appropriate care, attention, help, service, minister to others while you also minister to yourself” to initiate healing in the recipient or in this case, the neighbor(s), whom the disciples were sent out to care for and love. Let’s take a quick and practical look through the lens of Dr. Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” to obtain an idea of what kind of fruit could be produced in your effort to love your neighbor.

The Fruit from this Core Area: Dr. Abraham Maslow, the creator of “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” provides an excellent model for you to consider as you approach the idea of loving your neighbor as yourself.  Dr. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has five levels (Physiological, Safety, Belongingness and Love, Esteem and Self-Actualization). These five levels provide clarity regarding the needs any individual may have at any time, which helps you to determine what the behavioral manifestation of love could look like in your effort to offer up and demonstrate therapeutic assistance to facilitate wise and therapeutic outcomes with your neighbor. What follows is a brief look at how the five levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs could assist you in loving the neighbors in your life effectively.  The examples I’ll give are personal ones, as neighbors in my life have helped and loved me, which in turn has been a catalyst for me to “pay it forward” and demonstrate an appropriate manifestation of love to help meet the needs of the neighbors I’ve had the privilege to encounter.

Level Five: Physiological Needs (Food, Water, Warmth, Rest): The demonstration of love on this level provides opportunities for your neighbor to receive the basics needed for them to survive, live, grow then thrive. A personal example of this are the people who provided food and finances to my mother and two sisters, as my mom did the best she could to keep a roof over our head, the power on in our house, clothes on our body and food in our stomach as we grew up in Houston, TX. She did her best however I’m very thankful that the neighbors in our neighborhood literally helped her in this effort! As an adult, I’m proud to say I’ve had the opportunity to work for 14 years on Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles with three agencies that among other things, provided resources to meet the basic and physiological needs of men, women and children who were homeless. Equally, my wife and son (Leslie and Gabriel) have partnered with “many neighbors” since 2011 to provide for the basic needs of orphans, widows and community members in the countries of Uganda and Ethiopia through Marissa’s House Projects, a ministry started in honor of our deceased daughter who desired to become a missionary in Africa. How might you show love to your neighbor by providing for their physiological needs? 

Level Four: Safety Needs (Security, Safety): The demonstration of love on this level provides your neighbor (that is, all human beings, but especially to those most vulnerable: women, children, the elderly, the infirm, the religious, racially and sexually different, the foreigner, etc.) with your commitment to be a safe person, who works to create safe places, processes and environments for them to be safe and feel safe, secure, protected, respected, affirmed and loved. The presence of safe people who are committed to creating safe places where safe, respectful and thoughtful processes occur helps their brain, mind, body and spirit learn vital life skills such as how to trust, be vulnerable, connected with others, regulated, confident and resilient, especially when challenges in their life impact them adversely. 

I’m fortunate to have had supportive and compassionate neighbors in my life who protected and inspired me to overcome negative, painful and ugly life experiences connected to racism, which inspired and motivated me to grow into and promote becoming a safe person with those I encountered, regardless of our differences.  Understating the value, need and benefit for all human beings to breathe, think, question, hurt, heal and live safely and with dignity motivated me to create and maintain safe places seasoned with unconditional love to deliver therapeutic processes that ultimately empowered them to live life according to their values and value system that made sense to them.  How might you show love to your neighbor by providing for their safety needs? 

Level Three: Belongingness and Love Needs (Intimate relationships, Friends): The demonstration of love on this level provides your neighbor with positive, practical, loving and live-giving strategies and experiences that are beneficial for them, with a sub-goal being for the recipient(s) to reproduce the loving behaviors with the neighbors they’ll encounter in the larger global village in which we all belong.  

I work as a Marriage and Family Therapist because I have a passion for seeing marriages and families become healthy, functional, cohesive, strong and of course, loving!  However, I also recognize marriages and families are “sub-systems” of much larger “macro-systems” we interact with (i.e., workplaces, churches, schools, colleges, recovering communities, recreational sports leagues, hospitals, jails, prisons, governments, countries, etc.), and these “extended family members” deserve the same positive, intentional, constructive, and loving behaviors from us that we provide to our own family members

I’d like to convey two more points before finishing up with the remaining two levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  First, to help your neighbors experience the fulfillment of their needs of belonging and love, I suggest you consider the work of  Dr. Christopher Petersen and Dr. Martin Seligman, supporters and authors of the study of Positive Psychology.  In their work, Drs. Petersen and Seligman suggest 24 “character strengths and values” (CSV, which I number among 442 “Agape-oriented values and virtues”), which when practiced consistently could help any person to not only feel important but could assist in their overall (psychological) development as a person.  Their “CSV” list identifies “core virtues” (underlined and bold) and 24 measurable “character strengths” which are:

  1. Wisdom and KnowledgeCreativity, Curiosity, Open-Mindedness, Love of Learning, Perspective, Innovation
  2. CourageBravery, Persistence, Integrity, Vitality, Zest   
  3. HumanityLove, Kindness, Social Intelligence   
  4. Justice:  Citizenship, Fairness, Leadership    
  5. Temperance:  Forgiveness and Mercy, Humility, Prudence, Self-Control  
  6. TranscendenceBeauty and Excellence, Gratitude, Hope, Humor, Spirituality 

Keep these and other values and virtues close by as you interact with your neighbor, as the presence and practice of them will produce therapeutic and healing outcomes! 

Second, drawing from Petersen and Seligman’s Positive Psychology strengths and values list, I’d like to highlight the character strength of Integrity. In the New Testament of the Bible, the English words “Integrity” and “Truth” are the same Greek word (“Alethes”), and the Oxford Living Dictionary (2019) defines Integrity as the practice of being honest and showing a consistent and uncompromising adherence to strong moral and ethical principles and values.”  We’ll come back to this word later in this post, but for now, I’d like for you to consider if we practice, teach and model these behaviors, then by default (but really it’s because of focusing our attention on being intentional) people will feel like they belong to a family that provides and promotes connection, and will typically repeat and reproduce these characteristics because as Dr. Dan Siegel conveyed in his work with Interpersonal Neurobiology, “the cells that fire together will wire together, and if they wire together they may inspire together!” How might you show love to your neighbor by providing for their belongingness and love needs? 

Level Two: Esteem Needs (Prestige, Feeling of Accomplishment): The demonstration of love on this level provides your neighbor with opportunities to be built up, then, when built up, for your neighbor to turn around and use his/her energy to help build others up. Think of building others up in this way: First, to teach someone how to fish (and eventually to fish for themself!), you’ll have to take them fishing, where you’ll demonstrate, inform and model practical but skilled strategies about what works best in this activity. Then, once they understand the basic processes involved with fishing, they’ll gain skill, competence, expertise, and esteem with continued opportunities to hone their newly acquired craft and will probably feel esteem because they’ve acquired a skill whereby, they’re able to take care of and provide for their self and others and will hopefully reproduce this process that you shared with them. But for them to gain this sense of accomplishment you’ll first need to be(come) a safe person who safely builds up their confidence and esteem. 

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” – Ephesians 4: 29 (TNIV)

In my book Cultivating Love: Choosing Change #10 – Blueprints and Building Change,  I remind you that you’re the Architect (“Arkhi + tekton”) or Lead Builder whose job is to use quality building materials (your demonstrated values, virtues, disciplines and behaviors) to build up the person so they’re able to not only become the quality dream home that others will wish to inhabit, but will also become the person who is able to withstand unexpected catastrophes in his or her life

I’ve had many low points in my life, but one occurred the summer between my Junior/Senior year in High School when I was 15 years old.  I had a job with a home developer installing marble vanities, and one morning the owner discovered one of the delivery trucks had a flat and asked me to change it. The problem is that I’d never been taught how to change a tire, and after 30 minutes he came and mentioned those stinging words that still create a visceral feeling today: “What’s the matter, didn’t your father teach you how to change a tire?”  Those words cut to the quick of my soul and to my father wound as I responded with tears in my eyes “I don’t have a father.” To his credit Bill realized my hurt, pain and shame, then helped me to change the tire, and also tried to offer words of encouragement, but the psychological damage had been done; his words hurt deeply, and it would take years to heal some of the wounds I encountered as a youth.

Later that year (November 1977) I became a Christian and as my faith matured, one of the things I tried to practice consistently was to live out the instructions in the above-mentioned verse with others I encountered.  Today, as a Psychotherapist, I place a high premium on the words we speak with others, and processes of engagement because encouragement works a lot better than discouragement, especially when one of my goals is to equip others to build others up. How might you show love to your neighbor by providing for their esteem needs? 

Level One: Self-Actualization Needs (Achieving one’s full potential, including creative needs). The demonstration of love on this level provides your neighbor with opportunities to not only grow as a person, but to engage in processes that assist him or her to reach their fullest potential as a human being.  I see that occurring in Jesus’ three-year ministry with His disciples and other followers, as He committed time and attention to their bio-psycho-social-spiritual development as men and women, and it was the “self-actualized” work they engaged in as human beings that would eventually change the world, and impact people like Dr. Monica Roach, who profoundly impacted me, and was a very important person in my life who helped me achieve what Dr. Maslow had in mind with this level. 

I first met Dr. Monica Roach in 1987, who as a Fuller Theological Doctoral student provided psychotherapeutic treatment to the men in the Crossroads program that I supervised (the 18–25-year-olds) at Union Rescue Mission. Monica helped me to see the utility of psychotherapy with people who were homeless, and in 1992, when she called to volunteer to facilitate a six-week anger management group with men in my program (after the L. A. riots), I mentioned to Monica I was returning to school to pursue a Masters in Clinical Psych.  Monica, who was an alumnus of one of the schools I was looking at (Antioch University Los Angeles), offered and provided a full scholarship for me to attend Antioch University, a scholarship she created in honor of her deceased daughter from the disease myasthenia gravis. Her only request was that I use my degree to assist people who were homeless. Her gift not only helped me to create a workbook as a focus of my dissertation (“The Development of an Integrated Treatment Program for the Sexually Addicted Homeless in Rescue Missions,” a precursor to Cultivating Love: Finishing Strong), but she inspired me and one of my Clinical Supervisors (Jerry Butler) to start the Pepperdine University/Jerry Butler Mental Health Clinic at Union Rescue Mission, which is a practicum site for students enrolled in Pepperdine University’s Doctor of Psychology degree program, among other services developed during my tenure there as Director of Men’s Programs (1996 – 2000).  Marissa (born in 1994) would have been named Monica, but Leslie and I agreed we both had to agree on the names of our children. I am forever thankful for the counsel, vision, generosity, expertise and commitment that Monica provided to me, which helped me to “self-actualize,” and motivated me to love my neighbors then and now, in such a special and unique manner. How might you show love to your neighbor by providing for their self-actualization needs?

Contamination of this Core Area:  A difficult challenge we face with the growth and distribution of love to our neighbors is because it’s downright challenging to grow then distribute love, especially and in direct contrast to self-actualization efforts, it feels like I have an internal propensity to do the exact opposite (Romans 7:15). The difficulty is present because no one had to teach me how to be selfish, inconsiderate, entitled or worst, to hate or engage in evil behavior toward the “neighbors” in and over the course of my life.  

On the contrary, I’ve had to commit decades of my life to learn what love is, then, with the help of my God, cultivate it consistently and maturely for its maximum edification value, then learn how to “get out of my own way” by overriding my fear, anger, resentment (and other emotions), trauma and addictions, dullness, laziness and … (fill in the blank) to then hear from God what is the appropriate next step He wants me to take to deliver a manifestation of love to my neighbor, who typically presents into my office each day with very complex needs which most of the time, are only healed with strategic infusions of well-placed love!  Yes, it could become very complicated to carry out this commandment if I’m not aware of how my own issues complicate the process of loving my neighbor! But there’s more. 

Another contaminant to loving my neighbor occurs when I elevate myself into a position best reserved for a loving and merciful God rather than me, as I’m prone to make decisions or judgments (and rather poorly I might add) regarding who gets whatever form or demonstration of love from me. Why? Because I realize I’m a pretty terrible God when it comes to judging who is “worthy or unworthy” of love.  My loving God holds the door open for all, but even on the best of my days, if I were to judge (the Greek word is Krima, and yes, we get our English word “Criminal” from this word) my trauma (that is, those who hurt me), my personality (that is, those character defects that seek or get fixated on retaliation or revenge and narcissistically believes I’m right and they deserve what’s coming to them), my feelings and emotions (could flood then distort my vision then actions or inaction) could cause things to get ugly regarding who gets a diluted and contaminated form of love and who gets left out from receiving love. 

If you’re left to judge, which neighbor gets love and which gets criminalized, according to your standard of what love is?  The Republican or the Democrat? The American or the foreigner?  The Ukrainian or the Russian? The Straight or the Gay person?  White, Black or Asian, Christian, Muslim or Atheist, Police or Pacifist, Roman or Jew, even Chris Rock or Will Smith! Perhaps (and thankfully) that’s why there’s no clause or exception category when we read “and love your neighbor as yourself,” because splitting up who gets love is like splitting up which part of yourself or family member gets love and which does not. Hopefully, we won’t judge, pick or choose which neighbor is more deserving of love, but would just decide to learn what expression of love my neighbor needs then move to deliver it. Still, elevating myself to a place of judgment regarding who gets what is not the worst contaminant. 

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we read there were two religious people who walked by the person who was half-dead, and somehow exercised the ego defense of rationalization (a friend calls it “rational lies”) that they didn’t have a responsibility to help him in his greatest need.  Again, I’m not a judge, but this is unconscionable because most humans much less animals in the world we live in lean toward caring for and protecting life.  Even on my worst days, I’m still led to wonder what, in their middle prefrontal cortex much less their spirit (the place in our brain that helps us to make good decisions), could cause these two men to abandon a person and allow him/her to die? 

Rarely does Jesus present “throwaway” lines for the sake of impressing someone.  On the contrary, I think it’s quite possible the two religious people who walked past the hurting person He described in this parable were in the crowd. In His own way he didn’t shame them, just like he didn’t shame the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11); no, He didn’t do this. However Jesus did use this teachable moment to focus on the character strength of Integrity, which contextually means “if I encourage certain behavior when talking with others in the temple then I need to practice the same behavior on the road as well.”  Which leads me to ask the question “What about you?  When it comes to the practice of loving your neighbor as yourself, is there a lesson in this parable for you to learn regarding integrity and the consistent practice of loving your neighbor no matter who, where, or how?  Which of your fellow citizens in need would you walk right by, avoiding that neighbor to give preference to another neighbor, who happens to be another one of God’s children? That’s why Mackenzie’s encounter with the personification of Wisdom was so convicting because if your child was on the side of the road bleeding out wouldn’t you want someone to stop, help them and deliver to them an uncommon expression of love that might save their life?  But suppose it’s not your child who’s assailed.  Suppose it’s your wife or your husband who you’re furious with, or your parents or siblings that you’re estranged with, or your boss who hired then years later fired you, or (fill in the blank). Would you stop and offer love to the neighbor whose blood you share or, is markedly different that you, or would you walk past them? 

To me, this parable is about developing the muscle strength to practice uncommon love with the neighbors in our life, which calls for you and me to love our enemy, pray for the one who persecutes us, bless the one who curses us, and do good to the one who mistreats us (Luke 6: 27 – 28).  The challenge embedded in fulfilling this 2nd Greatest Commandment calls on me to do the uncommon, the uncomfortable and the unconditional uncompromisingly. God I wish I realized this truth in my 20s versus later in my life!  I know if I knew then what I know now my behavior would have been a lot different!  But I’m not young anymore and I can’t use that excuse.  The only right I have today is to follow the laws of nature.  If I’m in the vine, then I’ll not only produce fruit daily, but the fruit I produce should be sweeter as I mature and thankfully, if I get another day of this Earth to cultivate love in my 7 Core Areas, then I plan on distributing it to any hungry person, and like you, I see a lot of people who are famished if not starving. I invite you to love your neighbor as yourself, the intention God always had in mind when He thought of you

“God help me to see people as you see them, help me to hear what you would hear, help me to feel what they feel, and may your words be my words” – The daily prayer of a Psychotherapist

Suggested Activity:  First, take some time to read the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:27-37), which Jesus told as an example of what loving your neighbor is to look like. You’ll notice in the parable there were six people: the victim who needed help, the robber(s) who harmed the victim, the two religious people who did the unconscionable and walked past a person who could have been close to death, the innkeeper and the Good Samaritan.  Think about who did what and if you were to insert yourself in the story pick the part that best suits you, or, the part that you’d like to fulfill (Hopefully you’ll pick one of the last two in the lineup; even if you’re not, please work or aspire to fulfill the role of the Samaritan!).

Second, endeavor to live in consultation with God and others: Seek counsel from your God, or a wise and spiritual mentor, or someone you trust who provides valuable insight and information regarding how you could become a “wounded healer” whereby you personally benefit from the love you’ve cultivated (enjoying the fruit of your own labor) but then move to edify, fortify and enrich the neighbors in your life by sharing the same love you received from God. Take in the “suggested seeds” (character values and virtues), then practice the behavior consistently to produce good and capable outcomes in your interactions with others.  

Finally, take the Spiritual Gifts Inventory to determine what your spiritual gifts are, which could help you decide where the best use of your passion, energy, gifting, interests and abilities are, and where you may feel most useful as you apply your energy toward helping and delivering love to your neighbors. 

Skill to develop:  The ability to consistently grow and deliver healthy forms of love to others based on their need(s), yours and their value system, and your desire to be an agent of change to positively impact their life beyond their current and possibly challenging life circumstances.

“Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments” – Deuteronomy 7:9 (TNIV)

Thanks for reading this excerpt from Cultivating Love: Wisdom for Life. As time permits, please visit the other blogs written by Dr. Ken McGill: Daily Bread for Life and “3 – 2 – 5 – 4 – 24″ for additional information that could be helpful. 

I welcome your comments below or via email and your favorites, your retweets and your “+1’s” if you have a brief moment and find the information helpful. Again, it is my desire to provide the very best info for your consideration. 

TeleHealth/Video counseling sessions are available for those who prefer to meet online – Dr. McGill

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