She went on to say, "...if we really want to practice compassion, we have to start by setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their behavior." (Brown,2010,p.17) This statement did not ring true for me. I kept reading as she described a work situation where the boss was frustrated because two of his employees did not listen and would always do things their own way even after he made sure they understood every detail of a project. Her answer was to hold the employees accountable for not following the project protocol. She said the boss should tell them that that he was going to write them up or give them an official warning the next time they didn't do things according to protocol. This was holding them accountable. She went on to generalize this idea, "We can confront someone about their behavior, or fire someone, or discipline a child without berating them or putting them down. The key is to separate people from their behaviors - to address what they're doing, not who they are." (Brown,2010,p.18.)
And with that, she had completely lost my agreement. Looking at the work situation I see a boss who says it has to be done one way and employees who consistently do it a different way. Without knowing anything else about the situation I have to ask "why?" " Why is it so important that they do it a specific way?" and "Why do they always do it differently even if they understand how they are supposed to be doing it?" It seems much better for the relationship between the boss and the employees, and for the general work environment, for the boss to find out why the employees are not doing their work according to protocol. There has to be a reason. Employees do not willfully do something against protocol without a reason. Separating the people from the behavior takes away all understanding of why they feel the need for that behavior.
The same is even more true for our children. Children are their behaviors. If you say to a child,"You aren't bad, but your behavior is," however nicely you want to phrase that, you are still saying to the child that they aren't good enough. A child doesn't behave randomly. There is a reason for every behavior. As a parent we need to figure out what need our child is trying to get met through the behavior. When we show compassion for our children we take the time to validate their feelings and experiences. When we take the time to understand the Why? of a behavior our children feel understood, listened to and loved. Children use behaviors to get their needs met. When we as parents focus on stopping behaviors we are only exacerbating the situation, as I explained in my post "Problem Behaviors."
Brené Brown concludes that section of the chapter by saying,"When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated....It is also impossible to practice compassion from a place of resentment. If we're going to practice acceptance and compassion, we need boundaries and accountability." (Brown, 2020,p.19)
Even though she quotes Pema Chödrön in preceding paragraphs regarding compassion, it seems that Brené Brown does not actually understand the Buddhist practice of compassion. Our compassion does not rely on anything outside of ourselves. We can bring compassion to every interaction in our lives, even with those people who we feel have mistreated us and those we have feelings of anger towards. No one needs to change anything before we can practice compassion, they do not need to be held accountable for their behaviors. The only person we need to hold accountable is our self. Are we acting with compassion? Are we doing our best to understand the "Why?" behind someone's behavior? Similarly, the boundaries we may set are for ourselves. We may say, "I will not let you hurt me," and we may remove our self from the situation.
I recently found myself at a red light behind a large pickup truck with truly unpleasant political bumper stickers. I found myself thinking negative thoughts about the driver. Then I remembered a blog post from Single Dad Laughing which said, "And so, I will ask you now to not hate the bullies. Experience tells me that hating them, or being angry with them, will always make it worse. Instead, put your arm around them. Love them. Tell them that they are valuable. Tell them that you expect great things from them. They will stop the bullying. They will stop, because they will start to love themselves. And people who love themselves don't bully others." I started thinking about the driver of the truck as someone who could really use a hug. I felt compassion for someone who felt so angry at the world. Nothing changed but my perspective. I chose to feel compassion for the driver.
We do not need to hold people accountable for their behavior in order to live a life of compassion. We need to hold our selves accountable for our thoughts and behaviors. We must cultivate a spirit of compassion for everyone around us so that our response to their behaviors is not limited to reacting and trying to make their behaviors stop.
"True compassion is not just an emotional response
but a firm commitment founded on reason.
Therefore, a truly compassionate attitude towards others
does not change
even if they behave negatively."
- The Dalai Lama
I found it interesting that the Dalai Lama's message on compassion speaks specifically to the needs of children, starting at conception and continuing through childhood. "Then there is the critical period of brain development from the time of birth up to at least the age of three or four, during which time loving physical contact is the single most important factor for the normal growth of the child. If the child is not held, hugged, cuddled, or loved, its development will be impaired and its brain will not mature properly." This was taken from the middle, visit the Dalai Lama's website to read his message on compassion in its entirely.
Sometimes when we come across a passage in a book that challenges us we find that there is a shift that needs to take place in our lives or in our thinking. We may feel defensive and realize that this is a signal that we need to look more deeply, with an open mind, into something we believe to be true. Other times we may realize that while much of what a particular writer or speaker says is in agreement with our own beliefs and philosophies, we take exception to something in particular. We need to examine the Why? of our own feelings and reactions in order to gain a clearer understanding of the person we want to be and the life we want to live.