How to Cultivate Kindness in Difficult Relationships, by Doro Bush Koch

Do you have people in your life who irritate you? I am embarrassed to say that I have several people in my life who irritate me. This week I spent time with one of them. I won't bore you with why this person irritates me because it's not important and also because it would shine a spotlight on what this irritation says about me. I don't think it would be good. But in researching kindness, I have come across some valuable tools to help me cultivate kindness in difficult relationships.

The first I learned from a Buddhist friend. We were having a discussion about a person in the public eye who in my mind is a bigot and a rabble rouser--strong condemnations I know. I don't like feeling that way, but it's truthfully how I feel. And the question was asked, "How do you have compassion for someone like that?" And the answer was, "Well, I say to myself this--He is just like me in these three ways. 1. He is a human being, just like me. 2. He wants to be happy, just like me. 3. He wants to avoid suffering, just like me." The words are simple yet this "just like me" practice is very powerful. When we develop compassion for others, it benefits us, because what emerges for us is inner tranquility. Nurturing close, warm hearted relationships with others quickly puts our minds at ease. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes.

The second tool for cultivating kindness in difficult relationships is the Pygmalion phenomenon-- if I change my perception of you, you will change. For example, the student who is seen by the teacher as the most intelligent becomes the most intelligent. Or the child that is seen by the parents as the most obedient, becomes the most obedient. This perception is like a ray of light falling on a plant--it makes it more visible, nourishes it, and stimulates its growth. Respectful attention or the kindness to see the potential in others, changes not only the reviser, but the giver too. When we see others as special or interesting, our world becomes broader and much more compelling.

Last week, when I was spending time with this "irritating" person, I was able to feel compassion for her knowing that she is just like me. Knowing that she wants to be happy and that she has to undergo suffering, helped remove whatever fears or insecurities I have around her. Knowing she is just like me helped me open my heart. Sometimes it's hard to look past the superficial aspects of people, but if we can, we too can be different. What we choose to see determines who we are and who we can become.