How to Be Compassionate Toward Difficult People

In Search of Wisdom
Copyright Philippe Danais 2017

Don’t let the unkind actions of others harm your mental or physical well-being.

I am often asked the following question: “I want to be compassionate and kind, but how do I do that when I’m confronted with ingratitude, bad faith, hostility and ill will? How do I feel altruism for the ruthless barbarians of ISIS?” In the Buddhist teachings, we are often given the advice not to inwardly own the wrongs that have been done to us. There is the story about someone who insulted the Buddha many times. The Buddha finally asked him, “If someone gives you a gift and you refuse it, who in the end is the owner of the gift?” A little disconcerted, the man replied that it’s the person who is trying to give the gift. And the Buddha concluded, “Your insults—I don’t accept them, thus they remain yours.”

Dealing with ingrates, boors and nasty people, it seems to me we have everything to gain by maintaining a compassionate attitude. By remaining calm, courteous and open to the other, in the best-case scenario, I will disarm their hostility. And if they don’t change their attitude, I will have at least kept my dignity and my inner peace. If I get into a confrontation, I will myself commit the faults that I deplore in the other. The usual pattern in confrontation is escalation. You keep shouting louder and louder, I reply shout for shout, the tone worsens, and the next thing you know, we’re moving in the direction of violence.

If we fight hate with hate, the problem will never end.

It Is Possible to Be Compassionate Toward Others Without Conditions

• Don’t be frightened by the practice of unconditional altruism and say that it is beyond your reach. Don’t ever think, “The suffering of others is none of my business.”

• Don’t blame yourself for not doing what is beyond your strength, but do reproach yourself for turning away when you can do something.

• No matter what level we start from, kindness and compassion can be cultivated just like any other physical or mental aptitudes.

• We should make use of our natural ability to be compassionate toward those near us as a starting point for extending our compassion beyond our family and those we love.

Excerpted from In Search of Wisdom: A Monk, a Philosopher, and a Psychiatrist on What Matters Most, by Matthieu Ricard, Christophe André and Alexandre Jollien. Sounds True, June 2018. Reprinted with permission.

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Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist monk, photographer, author and former molecular geneticist who served as an interpreter for the Dalai Lama. He lives in Nepal. For more, visit matthieuricard.org/en.

 

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