The Dalai Lama once said that every human being has a desire to be happy, and to be free of pain, and that his daily practice is to remember that his desire to be happy and free of pain is of no greater, or lesser importance than that of those he interacts with. This kind of active compassionate practice can also give you a sense of purpose and kind perspective when interacting with others.
A good ‘checkpoint’ before you say something that might be hurtful is ‘is it kind, is it necessary, is it true?’
You never know what’s driving those you meet who seem to be unkind. Perhaps, if you knew their back-story you might behave in the same way. And the same is true for us. What’s our back-story when we have unkind thoughts, say unkind things or do unkind acts?
Owning your own negative emotional patterning is not easy because, first, you have to become aware of it. There are clues. When you find yourself saying ‘you NEVER….’ Or ‘you ALWAYS e.g criticise me’ the chances are you have gone into a negative emotional behaviour pattern driven by an implant belief that you developed in your childhood. An example of this would be feeling ‘never good enough’. Tim Lawrence’s book ‘You Can Change Your Life’ explores this territory in a highly practical way. For example, something as simple as changing saying ‘you make me feel’ to ‘when you said xzy that made me feel ….’ helps this process of becoming aware of one’s own patterns that make you react to certain things said.
Every day most of us meet people who may be struggling with something or other. It may not even be visible. Simply asking ‘how are you?’ is a start. ‘how’s life?’ might open up a bit more enquiry. In some cultures it would be impolite not to ask. Of course, there is a cultural response of ‘good’ or ‘fine’, neither of which may be true. (There is an acronym of FINE which means F****d up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional!). So, perhaps when you’re asked you could tell the truth, briefly, choosing a word or two for how you are right now.
Another way in is to notice something positive and comment on it. “I like your shirt, your hair, your dog, your hat, your style.” If someone is struggling why not offer to help “Can I help you?”
When you speak to someone look at their face, or hear their voice, if they look or sound troubled, you may ask ‘what’s troubling you?’ or ‘you sound troubled. Everything OK?’ Of course, it is easy to project one’s feelings on others so it’s best to check in in case you got it wrong.
Most of the time, just being seen or being heard provides solace. Just to be a witness is often enough. Only give advice if you are sure they a) want it and b) it is on target. You can always say something like ‘this may not apply to you but I’ve found it helpful to xyz’
If you live with someone, do something unexpected. Think: what would make a positive difference to them? It is all too easy to get ‘siloed’ in relationships, carrying on with our own routines, passing like ships in the night.
Your homework today is to carry out one thoughtful act of kindness.