A collaborative I’m involved with, www.restorativesolutions.ca, puts at the heart of our work the word “Restorative.” This word goes with “Restorative Justice” but also has its own meaning. What is it that is wanting to be restored, when we go into an unhealthy workplace or work relationship?
Recently, I saw a talk by Thupten Jinpa which helped to focus my own thinking, that the restoring we are all wanting, is a restoration to compassion.
Thupten Jinpa is a former Tibetan Monk, the Dalai Lama’s long-time translator, and a scholar in his own right. He believes firmly that compassion, defined as a deep caring for another and wanting to connect and help another, is natural and an aspect of our nature.
He goes on to say that compassion provides us, as a species, a moral anchor for our ethics. When confronted with an ethical dilemma, he suggests the best question to ask is: “What it the most compassionate thing to do here?”
He quickly clarifies that compassion is not giving in. In my own work as a mediator and conflict midwife, I have found the people I work with often believe a compassionate response is weak or giving up their own interests or needs. Jinpa explains the compassion he knows demands that you “never lose sight of the fact the other person too is a person just like me who wishes to seek happiness and overcome suffering.”
As I study great leaders as part of my Masters program these days, I also see that the ones I admire have responded to injustice, and in particular social injustice, fiercely and with compassion. In assessing leaders and my own leadership, I’ve been informed by Martin Luther King Jr’s words:
“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
Yet, there are still many people who believe our true nature is not compassion, but survival of the fittest and the welfare of the self. Some of that can be traced back to the European thought, stemming from a misinterpretation of Darwin, regarding our true nature as a species.
Jinpa studied Western philosophy at Cambridge, in England. He was completely surprised at how deeply embedded the narrative of competition was in the West and in particular the idea that the ultimate explanation for human behavior is rooted in self-interest and competition is used to achieve this self-interest. Also, that altruism didn’t really ultimately exist. He sums this perspective up by quoting an American biologist who said: “Scratch an altruist, and watch a hypocrite bleed.”
So there is the fear that if we are “too kind” we will be seen as a “push-over” – and we won’t be seen as tough. We make a dichotomy between our rationale side and our emotional side.
Ultimately, Jinpa advocates not leaving compassion at the mercy of a situation only responding to situations that might evoke compassion from us. He advocates making compassion a proactive stance from how we relate to our world, giving ourselves a choice to respond from a compassionate lens. Our perspective changes everything.
A place to start, is to ask yourself how compassion ranks in your priority of values, principles and standards? Does it rank high – why or why not?
Jinpa also offers a practice from his Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Each morning, he offers, set an intention to spend the day with more mindfulness, more compassion and paying attention to how your behavior impacts others. That intention setting, daily, he says then starts to shape our motivation for how we behave. We can shape our motiviations and behaviours, by how we consciously set our intentions.
“Witnessing kindness makes us feel compassionate, and compassion predicts helping behavior.”
… Thupten Jinpa, A Feareless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives