Chapter six of our summer book read of “The Art of Happiness” by HH The Dalai Lama covers the ideas of relationship and human connection. Dr Cutler, the co-author is amazed at how The Dalai Lama is able to connect to people from all over the world from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences. So, he is curious if there is a simple secret to this, one method of relating to all people that could make everyone happy.
Of course The Dalai Lama has an answer, but it is always refreshing to hear his honesty about it. The main idea he suggests is having empathy, which is also a step in uncovering our seed of compassion. But, I think the way he explains empathy is very important. For most of us, we assume empathy is just “putting ourselves into someone else shoes” at a very superficial level. As Jennie, I would just turn around and try to see out the eyes of the other person. What we usually gloss over is in that process of stepping into another’s shoes, we have to also strip ourselves of our OWN identity and preconceived notions.
“This technique involves the capacity to temporarily suspend insisting on your own viewpoint but rather to look from the other person’s perspective, to imagine what would be the situation if you were in his shoes, how would you deal with this. This helps you develop an awareness and respect for another’s feelings, which is an important factor in reducing conflicts and problems with other people….”
“…understand and appreciate the background of the people you are dealing with. Also, being more openminded and honest are useful qualities when it comes to dealing with others.”HH The Dalai Lama – Ch 6 The Art of Happiness – Establishing empathy
Of course, Dr. Cutler was hoping for some more “in depth” or complex machinations for navigating the complexities that are inevitably the basis of any relationship, but as he mentions in the book, after asking The Dalai Lama if he could suggest any other avenues besides empathy, he thought for a moment, answered “No” and laughed. This idea of approaching everyone with empathy is “simple, perhaps, but not simplistic.” (Dr. Cutler Ch6 “The Art of Happiness”)
The reason the approach must be so simple is because relationships themselves are so complex. “One has to recognize that there are different types of relationships and understand the differences between them…if you’re running into relationship problems, it is often very helpful to simply stand back and reflect on the basis of that relationship.” (HH The Dalai Lama Ch6 – Examining the Underlying Basis of a Relationship) When we look at the “vast scope of human behavior” you cannot assume to approach every relationship the same. Some partnerships are based on romance or sex and some on deep knowledge of another person. Some friendships are shallow and based on convenience and some will last a lifetime. The student/teacher relationship is based on knowledge and understanding of a subject and is in need of mutual respect. All of the these human interactions are different, but you have to know what the foundation of that interaction is before you can have any expectation of the relationship or connection.
I agree wholeheartedly with the above ideas of open-mindedness and honesty in the context of any relationship. In my lifetime I have found that as I hold back due to insecurity or judgement on my part, I never completely understand or communicate fully with the other person. The moment I am able to literally look and perceive through the known experience of the other person, letting go of my expectations or wants, I fall more quickly into compassion and understanding. Being more upfront and honest without holding back myself paired with this empathetic approach has made relationship building more connected, but also has made my own experience of life happier and more fulfilling.