One of the most difficult challenges for people feeling intense, negative emotions is not to spew those emotions—like a fire hose on full-blast—straight at whomever has sparked those emotions in us. My first split-second instinct on those rare occasions when my husband says something mean is to want to say something mean back; when I see/hear about anyone causing suffering or destruction, my initial reaction is still intense rage and despair. As much as it might make us feel temporarily better to vent our negative emotions at the “perpetrators,” if we really want to make positive changes for people, animals and the earth, we must learn not only to communicate with compassion, but to find our empathy and compassion for those causing the suffering and destruction.
One of the most important skills humane educators and activists can cultivate is compassionate, effective communication. We can speak kindly and politely, ask lots of questions, and use humor as compassionate, effective techniques. For those of us who have trouble with "instant responses," by practicing what to say in all sorts of situations, we can be prepared to respond calmly and compassionately, despite the gut reaction of anger, disgust and despair we may be feeling. In addition, knowing about the people we want to reach is also very important. If we know their needs, desires, and the way they think, we can use that knowledge to build bridges and find ways to connect with and inspire them. All forms of communication: letters to publications, to companies, to legislators, interactions with the media, public speeches, and casual conversations all need compassionate language and intent. It’s much more persuasive and helps build the kind of peaceful, loving world we say we want.
It's also important that we to live compassionate lives—for others and for ourselves. We need to remind ourselves that change takes time, that much depends on experience and context, that all of us have weaknesses that we need to address, and that almost no one wants to support evil or suffering or destruction. We have to seek out the good in everyone and focus on nurturing a connection with those parts of them. We can work to understand their motivations and underlying needs and build bridges toward helping them meet their needs in compassionate ways, but only if we're compassionate and non-judgmental ourselves.
One of the ways we can develop more compassion in our own lives is to surround ourselves with positive, uplifting things, and reduce or eliminate the things (profanity, movies, people, certain habits) that bring negative energy to us, especially if we find ourselves becoming more influenced by them. For example, I used to be a huge horror novel fan; as I became more aware of the negative energy I was absorbing from reading these novels—full of graphic violence, fear & profanity—I stopped reading them. As Eknath Easwaran says in Your Life is Your Message, “All of us can give a great gift to the world by looking at our life and gradually removing from it the things that are not simple and beautiful.”
Communication is a powerful way of modeling and offering compassion. As business woman and activist Davy Davidson says, “If we are to play a leadership role…we need to speak with our hearts.”
Image courtesy of ganesha.isis via Creative Commons.
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