I’ve thought about what kind of practice could be devised that would help to effectively, efficiently and quickly proliferate and cultivate greater goodness in the wider population. I have tried to make the ideas, the philosophy and the practice accessible, understandable, and relevant to everyday living. However, what I’m offering is just some starting points, nothing gospel, nothing set in stone, and all open to debate, criticism, change and improvement.
Attraction, not promotion
We should not promote or evangelise this practice, but instead depend upon the strength of our example to attract attention and interest. If someone notices that we are unusually kind, patient etc. and takes an interest in how we are so, then and only then will we share our practice, our ideas, our beliefs. This will serve to motivate our own development and expression of kindness, whilst ensuring that we do not isolate anyone nor create a false impression of our practice. Simply put, we walk before we talk.
Take our light to where it is dark
To make the strongest impression and attract the most attention to our practice we must place ourselves where our goodness is most needed and will be most valued and recognised. Remember, we are setting an example to promote goodness, not ourselves, so seeking attention is not about glorifying ourselves, but about allowing people to see the potential and benefit of patience, compassion etc.
We should seek to place ourselves where our practice will most stand out and make an impression and benefit those around us. Ideal circumstances would be anywhere where conflict arises and behavioural issues are prevalent. This could be working with drug addicts, children with behavioural issues, paedophiles etc. Our ability to express tolerance, empathy, forgiveness etc. in these situations will make these qualities more noticeable and are what will attract people to our practice.
Practice, practice, practice… home life
Our example within conflict situations must be near impeccable. To be inconsistent will undermine our practice and make us unattractive. Before we place ourselves in such situations we must commit to dedicated practice. We can do this by reconsidering our lives as one great extended opportunity for the practice and development of loving attributes. If we become stuck in a queue then this becomes nothing but an opportunity to practice patience. If we hear about someone sexually abusing a child then this becomes nothing but an opportunity to practice empathy. If someone is personally attacking us then this becomes nothing but an opportunity to practice tolerance. And so on.
The key field of practice is our home lives with our family. For most of us it is with our own families that our practice can slip… we must not be ‘street angels / home devils’. If we can master our practice in our home life then we will be much better prepared and much more confident to express our practice in the conflict situations that we are aiming to place ourselves within. We must recognise that, as difficult as a situation may be, the opportunity to practice and develop our kindness is more valuable to ourselves than the difficult situation is unwelcome.
With a little practice and with increased confidence in our ability to be an example of kindness in conflict situations we will soon anticipate, welcome and embrace conflict situations to demonstrate loving kindness within, in the knowledge that successful expression of love in these moments is what will most attract people to living their lives with goodness.
To achieve the above I’ve taken what I consider to be the five key attributes that would need to be practiced and developed. They are:
We practice tolerance so that we do not react negatively (with anger) within the conflict situations and cause harm. To practice tolerance we simply reflect on the consequences that may arise from a negative reaction.
Firstly, we do not know how many people will be harmed by our reaction. We may upset one person, but they may then go and upset their family members, who may then go and upset various people in their lives, and so on. If we reflect on this we will see that the consequences of our anger may never end, but simply continue to branch out, harming more and more people far removed from us.
Secondly, we do not know how someone will be harmed. We may think that our anger is minor and insignificant, but we do not know that our reaction could be the final straw for that individual, or for someone further down the line on the consequence tree. We may upset someone with our anger who may then go and shout at their depressed child at home who then commits suicide. Regardless of whether this is likely or not, we should make sure that the possibility is reduced. If we knew all of the consequences that arose from our negative reactions then we would never feel justified in reacting with anger. Holding this in mind is what will motivate our practice of tolerance.
We practice patience so that our tolerance endures within a conflict situation. To practice patience we need to reflect on what information we may not be aware of that, if we were aware of, would change our perception and our response to the situation. For example, at work a colleague walks by and ignores our warm greeting. We may become upset and angry at our colleague and consider them to be ignorant. Later on we find out that our colleague had just found out that their child had been taken to hospital and was rushing out of the building. Patience allows us the time and space to gather more information and respond more appropriately and wisely to the situation at hand.
Although we may have expressed tolerance and patience in a situation, this does not mean that feelings of anger have not arisen – they have simply been managed. Therefore, we practice forgiveness to remove these feelings and ensure that they are not allowed to distil and develop into a stronger feeling later that may not be controlled and may end up being expressed to the detriment of others through an even stronger anger.
To practice forgiveness we need to change our perspective of the situation we are in. We must see that to practice tolerance and patience requires situations that challenge our tolerance and patience, and, if we understand that the development of tolerance and patience are more valuable to us than the conflict situation is detrimental, then, in fact, the conflict situation is a positive experience for us not a negative one, and, therefore, there is nothing to actually forgive. As this perspective develops and our practice intensifies then we begin to realise that no negative situation need exist for us, because each negative situation provides an invaluable opportunity to practice and grow in goodness.
The above three practices are about not harming others in a conflict situation. With empathy and compassion we are now seeking to help those in the conflict situation, especially those who have attacked us. This is where our practice can make the greatest impression and where people can begin to see the wonderful merits of love and kindness. To empathise with others we do not need to understand their exact situation or behaviour, we simply need to recognise that all misbehaviour arises from suffering, and that if we ourselves had experienced their suffering then we too would most likely behave as they are. As such, instead of seeing misbehaviour (in whatever form it is being expressed) we now see only suffering, and we will wish to help this individual just as much as we would if we saw someone lying in the road with a broken leg and in great agony. From this appreciation of suffering our compassion will arise.
Compassion is our desire to relieve the suffering of others. In a conflict situation, where we may be being attacked, all we see is suffering and all we desire to do is to relieve that suffering and help our ‘opponent’ to find peace and happiness. Why? Because, first of all, as we have already identified, the conflict situation is a positive one for us, so why would we want anything but happiness and wellbeing for someone who has gifted us with such a precious opportunity for practice? And, secondly, out of such compassionate responses arise great relationships and friendships. How would we feel about someone who treat us with such tolerance, patience, forgiveness, empathy and compassion when we were behaving at our worst? Would we respect that person? Would we treasure that person? Would we wish to do good for them? Would we help them if they were in trouble? Would we provide beneficial opportunities to help them follow their dreams? Of course we would.
And so we can see that from our compassion and desire for the happiness of others manifests great potential for our own happiness too… we will have people around us who care deeply about us, who seek to help and assist us, who support and encourage us, who open doors of opportunity for us, and who, when we are at our worst, provide the same tender compassion and forgiveness that we have shown them. This possibility should be more than enough to motivate compassionate action, even as we ourselves are being attacked.
There are many other ways to support and enhance this practice, as well as live lives that are more tolerant, patient, forgiving, empathetic, and compassionate. The above serves as a potential starting point. The most important thing for us to understand is that, not only is the happiness of others dependent upon how we treat them, but our own happiness too.