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Huh? What’s up with the jargon?

This note isn’t about why compassion is important or why it matters; it’s about how to do it or be it–especially in moments when it’s hard.

I want to give you a technique for this: I call it story writing. We all create stories in our minds. It’s how we create meaning from the facts we experience and it has a huge influence on the emotions we feel. Someone cuts you off in traffic (the fact) and we decide he’s a jerk (the story) and we feel anger (emotion). Our story is logical and it supports the negative emotion we feel. Notice, however, how powerfully the emotion can change if we write a different story. Suppose the story is that the driver is rushing to the hospital to see his wife who was just in a horrible accident and is clinging to life. Can you feel the emotion shifting to, in this case, compassion? The facts are the same–we don’t know anything other than he cut us off in traffic. The only thing that changed is the story we created to provide meaning for ourselves based on the facts. Given that we don’t know why he cut us off in traffic, isn’t it curious that we would choose a story that creates anger? Guess what. We can choose the story we create far more than you might think. And that’s the technique. Consciously write a story (yes, make it up) that creates the emotional response you want to have. An angry response may feel good on some level (that’s another topic for another day), but is that really where you want to live?

That might work for isolated events involving people I don’t know, but what about the customer I work with who is consistently condescending and disrespectful? I find myself just having to swallow my anger with him. He’s such a jerk!

Great question. That seems like it would be a much harder case doesn’t it? The technique is the same, however, with some added elements. Now, instead of writing the story for a particular event, you’re writing the story for the whole person. Start by getting curious: I wonder what Joe’s life has been like to make him have such a strong need to be superior to others? Then start writing the story. Unless you know Joe’s life story, this will be pure fiction, which works perfectly. You could start, for example, with a tough childhood for Joe. It might look something like this: Joe grew up with a father who constantly told Joe he wasn’t good enough. No matter how well Joe did in sports or school, dad would put him in his place by pointing out what he did wrong and where he came up short. Joe was the captain of his high school football team, but his dad only focused on the scholarship he narrowly missed getting and how much that cost the family. He never heard the end of that. Joe learned to repeat this pattern with others as a way of surviving the brutal cuts inflicted by his father.

With practice this kind of story writing can be done real-time in a matter of seconds.

Once you have written Joe’s story, feel the emotion (compassion) that comes up from his story and choose to live and act from there. My guess is you will be amazed by what flows from that in your life.

For a beautiful illustration of how this works, click here to view a short video. Just so you know, this is not a commercial. It was originally produced by employees as a gift to their CEO. It is now used in their training program.