I think there is a belief that a person is either “nice” or not. There is a belief that people don’t change.
This is not true. People do and can change. If you want to be a nicer, kinder, calmer person there are things you can do to cultivate that. Years ago, I met a man who told me that I was one thought away from changing my life and in some ways he was right. Maybe the thought is: it doesn’t have to be this way. Or maybe the thought is: I really hate when I get angry and say things I end up regretting.
Compassion requires the ability to let go of preconceived ideas and perceptions. It requires you to open your heart and to see another person’s suffering. You can cultivate compassion through a sustained effort, a practice of focus on other and a practice of seeing other as you.
Ode Magazine in 2007 published an article on cultivating compassion that included the following exercise:
Compassion can be practised anywhere: at airports, on beaches or in shops, whenever we are together with other people. Try this five-step exercise around friends and strangers. Do it discreetly and try to do all the steps with the same person.
With your attention geared to the other person, tell yourself:
Step 1: “Just like me, this person is seeking happiness in his/her life.”
Step 2: “Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life.”
Step 3: “Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair.”
Step 4: “Just like me, this person is seeking to fill his/her needs.”
Step 5: “Just like me, this person is learning about life.”
I really love the simplicity of this exercise. I think it an excellent practice to begin cultivating compassion. You can use it with strangers and you can use it with coworkers who are toxic and with family members who are annoying. In my previous post, I called for some compassion for the two college students who bullied Tyler Clementi. Let’s try using Mr. Ravi in our exercise:
Just like me, Dharun Ravi is seeking happiness in his life.
Just like me, Dharun Ravi is trying to avoid suffering in his life.
Just like me, Dharun Ravi has known sadness, loneliness and despair.
Just like me, Dharun Ravi is seeking to fill his needs.
Just like me, Dharun Ravi is learning about life.
I think the last one particularly resonates with me in this case. I think that he is learning very hard lessons about life right now.
There is no magic in developing compassion. There are no secrets, no special skills, no barriers outside your control. All that you need to develop compassion is within you. Start your practice today. The pay off is enormous, as described in this well known quote of the Dalai Lama:
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”