Psychologist Paul Ekman has spent over 60 hours with the Dalai Lama trying to understand “global compassion” and whether it can be taught. He’s searching for a western psychological corollary to ancient Buddhist meditative practices designed to increase empathy for total strangers.
Paul Ekman: I’ve now spent about 60 hours in one-on-one conversations with the Dalai Lama. It’s a real gift because he’s a very, very interesting man. He’s very bright and he loves to argue without rancor. I love to argue without rancor also. It’s over those six years of conversation that he has shifted some of my interests into compassion. My interest has now become on what I call global compassion where you feel compassion not just for members of your family, not just for people who have the same skin color, not just for people who speak the same language, but for all human beings. And your wish is to reduce the suffering of all human beings on this planet. Regrettably that’s rare and yet I believe that survival of the world requires that we get a lot more global compassion.
Is global compassion — and some people do have it — is that a gift like being a great athlete or a great musician? We don’t say why can’t everyone be Beethoven or Paul McCartney. We know that only some people have that gift. Is that what global compassion is, a gift? Or is it within all of us, but it’s only been awakened in some of us. There are some Buddhist meditative practices that are designed to increase compassion. They’re hard work and they don’t work with everyone. I’m looking for other ways. Although there are now a few hundred scientists studying compassion, very few of them are studying how to bring about more global compassion and that’s what we need.