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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[…]

Buddhist meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg discusses the role compassion plays in our perceptions and our happiness. Salzberg is the author of Real Happiness at Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement, and Peace.

Sharon Salzberg: I think one of our difficult conditionings actually is that we feel first of all – or we’re taught first of all that we will feel better about ourselves by demeaning others, by putting others down.  And I think a lot of workplaces reflect that.  A lot of homes reflect that, you know, that we feel okay, the way I am gonna trust myself and feel good about myself is if I can just kind of denounce this other person.  And I think we actually feel terrible but we don’t realize it because we’re so caught in that paradigm of this is what we have to do.  And so I would disrupt that first of all and really challenge that.  And we also tend to think that compassion is a weakness and that if we care we’ll just burn out and, you know, compassion will inevitably lead to exhaustion and giving in, losing a sense of principle and discernment and really having boundaries.

And I think none of that is true either.  We can redefine happiness so that it’s not just pleasure and endless pleasure seeking and being superficial and being like happy go lucky.  To having a deep, deep sense of resiliency and connection to a bigger picture. We would be a lot happier and success – our sense of what success is would follow that.

When it comes to compassion I think there always needs to be an examination of balance.  It’s a balance first of all between compassion for ourselves and compassion for others.  If we ignore ourselves, I mean, that’s not gonna work in the long run anyway.  We’re not gonna be able to sustain some effort.  We’re just gonna burn out.  And it’s also a balance between compassion for someone and discernment.  Maybe we really feel bad for someone and we need to be strong.  We need to express disapproval.  We really need to set a boundary that’s very clear.  Not give them what they want, right.  And there’s also a balance between having compassion for someone and realizing I can’t fix it, right.  I can’t make your problem go away.  I can be there.  I can try to help.  I can do this.  I can do that.  But in the end I can’t control the unfolding of the universe which I often add an addendum to that like too bad, right.  It is kind of too bad.  But it’s true.  And so we need a balance in order to have resiliency which is kind of the secret ingredient in compassion.  Otherwise compassion becomes burn out.  It becomes exhaustion.

Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton