When I grow up I want to be fearless like Joan Halifax.
She is a Zen Roshi, anthropologist, ecologist, writer, teacher, LSD researcher, scholar of the US Library of Congress and the only woman and Buddhist on the Advisory Council of the Tony Blair Foundation. Joan Halifax is described in her TED profile as "a driving force of socially engaged Buddhism." Her activism involves helping the sick and dying. In this TED Talk she describes the true meaning of compassion and empathy.
Her talk was enlightening and emotional in many ways. But aside from her clear description of what compassion truly is, here are my highlights, paraphrased:
Compassion is an inherent human quality. We are all born compassionate, but it has to be aroused.
Compassion has three enemies—Pity, Moral Outrage and Fear. To which my mind clicked… 1) Pity—Many people think compassion IS pity. This is what some dogmatic institutions lead us to believe. 2) Moral Outrage—This is why dogma is dangerous. 3) Fear—Which is why the most enlightened people are the least worried about outcome, mistakes, failure and loss. Which is why I aspire to be fearless like Joan Halifax.
Those who cultivate compassion feel suffering more, but they return to baseline a lot sooner. This is resilience. True compassion does not drain us, it enlivens us. It compels us to act.
Neuroscientists have seen how cultivating compassion is not just good for others and humanity in general. Compassion is good for our health. It enhances neural integration—hooking up all parts of the brain and making it work better. It also enhances the immune system.
And now the highlight of my highlights is this… she asks, "If compassion is so good for us why don't we train our children in compassion?"
The next big query is, and there's already a long thread about it on TED: Exactly how do we train our children in compassion? I have my own thoughts, but it’s a great question to throw out there. Think about it. I'd love to hear your ideas.