Monday, March 04, 2013

Strong Mind, Soft Heart

Even if you work for yourself (as I do), it is impossible not to work with other people. Of course most people enjoy working with their customers and clients, as well as colleagues, mentors, and teachers. But we also have to "work" with the insurance company, the customer service guy from the credit card bank, the internet service provider—so many other (often challenging) people. How can we successfully interact with lots of different kinds of people?

In her book When Things Fall Apart, Buddhist nun and teacher Pema Chödrön writes, "As we learn to have compassion for ourselves, the circle of compassion for others - what and whom we can work with, and how - becomes wider." According to Chödrön, then, that ability to work with more people starts with being "soft hearted" with yourself. But is this sensible advice? Isn't "softness" a sign of weakness? Perhaps it requires a strong mind to appreciate the soft heart?

A recent Facebook post by serial entrepreneur, author, and speaker Peter Shankman demonstrates the power of kindness. Logically, it wasn't weakness for him to be nice that day, since he ended up getting exactly what he needed and wanted. (He's actually written a whole book about it—Nice Companies Finish First, coming April 2). Common wisdom tells us you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, but is there something more going on here? Is this what Maya Angelou meant when she said, "The quality of strength lined with tenderness is an unbeatable combination"?

Religious and ethical traditions the world over share some version of the Golden Rule, encouraging us to love others as we love ourselves. Maybe this practice of being soft-hearted really has to start with us, as Pema Chödrön said? This week I'm thinking about how it helps me work with people better if I'm soft hearted—with them as well as with myself.

"Nothing is so strong as gentleness, and nothing is so gentle as true strength." - Ralph Sockman

How do you show compassion for yourself? Do you find it easier to feel soft-hearted for other people when you start with yourself?

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