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Combine Compassion With Assertion

by Beth on March 24th, 2011

I enjoyed reading Rick Hanson’s book, Buddha’s Brain.  In it he presents many thought provoking ideas, one of which is, “pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.”  He says that much of our suffering is caused by our reactions to events.  We can think of an event as a “first dart” and our reaction to it as a “second dart”.  While first darts are often unavoidable, we can reduce our suffering by trying to eliminate second darts.

So, for example, let’s say my kids leave their dirty dishes on the table AGAIN!  That’s the first dart.  The second dart is my reaction of frustration or anger.  Second darts often set off more second darts, creating a vicious cycle.  I might yell at the kids as they head off to school, which could trigger reactions from them or my husband and would certainly make me feel badly for having yelled.

According to Hanson, I could reduce my suffering by trying not to react to the dishes on the table.  I could avoid second darts and bring tranquility to the situation by breathing deeply and observing my thoughts and feelings without reacting to them.

Really?  OK, I do see how second darts cause me to suffer, making an unpleasant situation even more unpleasant.  So I guess I should practice having compassion and trying to control my reactions.  But if I don’t react to the dirty dishes the kids will just continue to do it, right?

Hanson says not if I combine compassion with assertion.  He explains that we will only feel comfortable showing compassion if we are also assertive enough to know our own needs will be met.  Being assertive requires that we effectively communicate our needs to others.  Often we make the mistake of thinking that people know what it is we want.  But it is our responsibility to communicate our needs in order for them to be met in a relationship.

So I should talk to my children to help them understand how much work it takes me to keep the house clean and how much it helps me if they do their part.  Hopefully, by clearly communicating my needs they will be more thoughtful about clearing the dirty dishes from the table.

I’m afraid this one will be easier said than done, but I’m going to try it.  What about you?  Are you willing to give it a try?

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