I watched Meditate and Destroy this week. It is a documentary about Noah Levine and his Dharma Punx movement. He is the child of prominent Buddhist teacher Stephen Levine. Noah, a self described punker and heavily tattooed former drug addict is now a well known teacher in his own right. He is frequently cited for connecting and speaking to people that traditional, Western Buddhist teachers and organizations have failed to reach. The movie itself was not that enlightening. I have read Noah’s memoir and knew much of his story; but, somewhere in the course of the movie I heard the following (or some variation…you know how memory is sometimes tricky):
You can invite someone into your heart and not into your house.
This is something that is essential to learn and grasp completely. You can open your heart to someone without opening your house to them.
You can open your heart and treat them with kindness and compassion without allowing them to have a position of influence in your life. This concept is one that is frequently misunderstood. I’ve briefly touched on this discussion before. Many people mistake having compassion for someone as a weakness, especially if that person has a negative history with you. I have a Buddhist friend that comes from a difficult childhood. In adulthood, she has created many boundaries of just how much certain family members are invited into her life. She has very clear boundaries about how much contact and what type of contact there will be. This does not mean she does not treat these family members with kindness. This does not mean that she does not hold compassion in her heart for them. It does, however, mean that she sees and knows what she needs to maintain a balanced and happy life and reduce the suffering that can be caused when her house has an open door to these folks.
She does not judge them or criticize them. She accepts them as they are and with that acceptance come limits as to how much access they have in her life.
I think what she is doing is difficult. Everything in our society is pointing her to either have them in her life running willy nilly or to cut them off completely.
We can carry this lesson into our work lives. Let’s face it. Sometimes, we work with toxic people. I have worked with and for people who yelled, threw things, looked the other way when really horrible things were happening, polluted the work environment with their constant stream of negativity and I have worked with bullies. I think the negative folks and the bullies are the most damaging and dangerous to work culture. Every place I have worked had at least one negative person who spent a good portion of the day complaining about something. I find these folks extremely damaging to morale and general work atmosphere and I think they should be stopped and if that is not possible, they should be highly discouraged.
The funny thing about complainers is if no one listens to them spewing their negativity, they spew less and less. I have seen this happen. They need an audience; but, we don’t have to give them one. The first time I boldly told a person that I didn’t want to participate in a conversation, my hands were shaking. It is hard, especially because most of us like to avoid confrontation.
By letting these people go on and on unchecked, we are letting them into our houses. We do not need to do this. You can be kind and compassionate and still limit the contact you have with certain people at work. You can be kind and compassionate and still confront the person if they start a conversation that makes you uncomfortable. In fact, confronting them quietly and calmly is far kinder then just ignoring them, avoiding them or letting them go on and on.
I know it’s difficult. I still find it difficult. Use phrases that are very clear and finite: I can’t participate in this conversation. I feel uncomfortable talking about a coworker behind their back. I’d rather not have this discussion. I don’t want to hear this (said when I had to share an office with several people and two coworkers were bad mouthing our boss).
We can’t bar toxic coworkers at the door; but, we can set clear limits of how they can interact with us. We can be kind and compassionate and still not invite them into our house.