Research indicates that when you practice compassion for others, you benefit as well. That makes sense, right? It feels good to practice compassion. You reap health benefits, your overall well-being improves, and your relationships are better. Compassion is the ultimate win-win.
How is it possible to practice compassion toward people who do so much harm in the world? Here are some techniques you can try.
1. Separate the Person from the Behavior
Stanford’s Compassion Cultivation Training course challenges participants to consider that people are naturally compassionate, and any unskilled behavior comes from a place of suffering. There is no “bad” person, just bad behavior.
Keep this in mind as you’re labeling someone as a “jerk.” Try to reframe that statement and instead say the person is acting like a jerk. This little nuance may help you see difficult people in a different light.
2. Imagine Whirled Peas
When polarizing people inundate your news and social feeds, compassion may be the last thing on your mind. Even if you intend to have compassion for someone difficult, you may feel blocked. Without realizing it, your mind may be dehumanizing that person. In other words, you don’t see that person as human.
Studies suggest it is easier to empathize with someone if you have something in common with that person. That helps you see a person as human. If you don’t have anything in common with someone, your mind may actually see that person as an object instead of a human.
One study out of Princeton discovered a clever way to humanize someone. Researchers found that when participants imagined a person enjoying a particular vegetable, they were able to recognize that person as human.
I invite you to try this with someone who creates tension or frustration in your life. Imagine sharing asparagus or sweet corn with your least favorite political figure, and see if anything shifts.
3. Try a Loving-kindness Meditation
Consider meditation to be like brain training. Just like an Olympic athlete may use visualization techniques to improve his or her performance, you can use meditation to improve your empathy breadth. By visualizing compassion for friends, strangers, and “enemies,” you may be more likely to see all people as human and worthy of compassion.
4. Don’t Forget Yourself
As I mentioned earlier, compassion is not easy. You may have a difficult time exercising your compassion muscle for certain people, and that is totally normal. Try not to beat yourself up about it, and give yourself a pat on the back for having compassionate intentions.
We often forget to tend to our own suffering, so be sure you include yourself in your circle of compassion.
---From the Chopra Center