Friday, June 10, 2016

Compassion/empathy/commonalities

One of my morning practices is taken from a WikiHow site called How to Cultivate Compassion in Your Life. It contains several suggestions, mostly drawn (I suspect) from Buddhist traditions. But they are easily adapted to whatever spiritual path you follow, including not following one at all.

One that I have found helpful is third on the list: Practice Commonalities.
Instead of recognizing the differences between yourself and others, try to recognize what you have in common. At the root of it all, we are all human beings. We need food, and shelter, and love. We crave attention, and recognition, and affection, and above all, happiness. Reflect on these commonalities you have with every other human being, and ignore the differences. One favorite exercise comes from a great article from Ode Magazine — it’s a five-step exercise to try when you meet 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:
  1. Step 1: “Just like me, this person is seeking happiness in his/her life.”
  2. Step 2: “Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life.”
  3. Step 3: “Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair.”
  4. Step 4: “Just like me, this person is seeking to fulfill his/her needs.”
  5. Step 5: “Just like me, this person is learning about life.”
A few years back when I was particularly angry with a certain political figure -- who is totally unimportant now, to me and to the nation, which just goes to show that things change -- I practiced this, replacing "this person" in the statements with the politician's name.

 Every time I found myself getting agitated about So-and-so, I would calm down and say our commonalities over and over and over. In a relatively short time, I found I was no longer agitated. Incidentally, this did nothing to change that politician's beliefs, words or actions, not as far as I can tell. But it changed me. And it took a tiny bit of anger out of the world.

Even today, when I find myself annoyed at another driver or some such, I find that practicing commonalities defuses the situation. Even if it doesn't make her/him a better driver, it calms me and that makes me a better driver.

It's a good thing.

BTW, back when I first started doing this, I mentioned it to a friend who found that particular politician equally annoying. She complained about him all the time. And while I agreed with much of what she said, I thought she might profit from the exercise to find some peace of mind in a situation that she could not change. I explained it to her and her response was, "I don't want to do that! I don't want to think I have anything in common with that ______!"

And when I think of her reaction, I am reminded to say of her, "Just like me, she is seeking happiness in her life. Just like me ..." 

I believe I have mentioned this practice before, but for those of us enduring the messy politics of an election year, I thought it worth bringing up again.





3 comments:

Mitchell is Moving said...

Oh, I think you're much more forgiving than I. I tried sticking Drumpf's name in there and I just couldn't do it. For today, I'll go with the bit of art/quote you included at the beginning and maybe try again tomorrow.

Michael Dodd said...

Mitchell,
It took me many attempts with the politico's name to get this to help the first time around. Many, many attempts!

Ur-spo said...

Alas, I run into so many people not at all interested in 1-5.