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Sharon Salzberg is a meditation teacher and author. She is the cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts, and has played a crucial role in bringing Asian[…]

We tend to see kindness as a secondary virtue. Sharon Salzberg asks why kindness is often degraded as a foolish reaction, as compared to the force that it genuinely is.

Sharon Salzberg:  The common perception tends to be that a quality like kindness or loving kindness or compassion is a sort of weakness, that it makes you sort of silly or very complacent, that you’re only gonna say yes.  You’re only gonna say yes, you can move in, you can take over my apartment, I’ll give you all my money just keep doing what you’re doing, it’s fine.  Well maybe it’s not fine at all.  And so we really need to look at that as well.  Why do we have such a sense of love or loving kindness that it’s almost degraded into this kind of foolish reaction as compared to the force that it genuinely is.

We really can redefine strength and not see compassion, for example, as giving in and just being too soft and being a doormat and letting someone walk over you.  But understanding we can have a genuine compassion for someone and also protect ourselves and want to take care of ourselves or protect others and have a strong boundary and say no.

You can be fierce or kind of intense in how we relate to somebody but we don’t have to have that kind of obsession, you know, how we can go through someone’s list of faults like all day long and then we go through it again and it’s the same list.  It’s not like we learn new faults.  But we’re so caught up it’s like we’ve given so much of our own life energy over to someone else that we want to recapture it, we want to be free.  And so one of the ways of doing that is really having a genuine compassion for the pain that this person is also in without having it lead to that kind of weakness.

So I’ve often thought that in this society at this time that we tend to see kindness as a sort of secondary virtue.  It’s like if you can’t be brilliant and you can’t be courageous and you can’t be wonderful, like okay, be kind.  It’s nice, you know.  It’s not great but it’s good.  But it is great.  It actually is great to really feel into the pain of someone and to wish them well.  Not wish them to be triumphant in what they’re doing but wishing that they could be free of that pain which is the source of their negative behavior.

Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler and Dillon Fitton