Friday, January 14, 2011


I am presently reading "The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of who you think you're supposed to be and embrace who you are" by Brené Brown, which I decided to read after watching the author's Ted Talk  "The Power of Vulnerability.  In the book, Brené Brown talks about how we need to be compassionate and accepting in order to create connection with the people in our lives.  I agree with that.

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.


  1. I see your point and love the shift you created at the red light.

    I do have to disagree on the point of boundaries or behaviors in a way. If someone is treating me in a way that is unacceptable to my Spirit then I owe it to myself to stand up for stand up and set a boundary against that action/behavior. I totally agree that people act for reasons - that being said, while I search out the why for a behavior there are certainly behaviors that I can not tolerate being around even while we search out the whys: violence and infidelity come quickly to mind. We have a no hitting family policy - you can get mad and hurt and whatever other reasons cause people to abuse others - but no one has permission to attack another persons body - so we try talking and there have been some screaming bouts and all - but I believe in my core that we all deserve to feel safe while working out our life issues/problems.

    Does that make sense? Not sure if I'm being clear

  2. Deb, that does make sense. I agree that we may set boundaries to keep ourselves and others safe. I touched on that when I said,"We may say, "I will not let you hurt me," and we may remove our self from the situation."

    Setting boundaries is a very complex discussion and it is different when you are setting boundaries with adults or with children or even different age children. We can and should set boundaries to protect ourselves. When our children were younger we would emphasize how everyone in the house needed to feel safe. If a very small child is hitting it can be possible to say, "You may not hit me, you may hit a pillow" while validating their strong emotions that are the reason they are hitting. As our children grow we can talk more about hitting and how it makes people feel and why people hit and ways to express ourselves without hitting. If we are in an adult relationship we can set the boundary that we will not accept being hit as part of a relationship and we can set the limit by leaving the relationship or by making counseling a part of the relationship.

    The author lumped boundaries with holding people accountable for their behaviors, and then made those conditional for being compassionate and accepting. I found to be be in conflict with compassion in its purest form. I also feel that as parents we must be compassionate and accepting with our children with no conditions. My child may hit me but that does not change my love for, and compassion and acceptance of my child. The age of my child may affect how I will respond to a child who hits. The mental ability and emotional state of my child will affect how I respond to a child who hits. But no matter what, my child hitting me does not limit my ability to love her, accept her and interact with her from a place of compassion - at least that should be my goal.

    The author presented setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their behaviors as a way to enable us not feel resentful, and to allow us to be compassionate and accepting. The examples she gave spoke to controlling people and getting them to do things our way. I need to be able to accept people and interact with them from a place of compassion because it comes from inside of me, not because of or in spite of external factors. Anything else is giving other people power over my reactions, making excuses, or making myself the victim. I have a choice about how I will respond no matter what anyone else does. :)

  3. Deb, I completely agree.

    Setting boundaries is a complex topic and is dramatically different if we are interacting with an adult or child or toddler. I did touch on boundaries when I said, "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."

    If a very small child hits us we may say, "You may not hit me, you may hit a pillow" while validating their strong feelings that caused them to hit. If an adult we are in a relationship hits us we may leave the relationship or make couples counseling a part of the relationship.

    We may set boundaries for ourselves. However, the author said that we needed to set boundaries so that we would not be resentful or feel mistreated. By doing this we would then be free from those feelings so that we could be compassionate and accepting. If I accept that I am not free to be compassionate and accepting until others change their behavior then I am giving them power over my response. If compassion and acceptance comes from inside of me, then I can act with compassion no matter what someone else's behavior might be.

    My child may hit me, but that does not change my love, acceptance or compassion for them. Depending on their age and mental and emotional abilities I will respond differently to being hit, but no matter how I respond my goal would be to approach the situation with love, acceptance and compassion for my child.

    (This is a much shorter response than the first one the computer ate, hopefully it is adequate. :)


  4. Jenna -

    Thanks for your thoughtful response - I really appreciate that about you!

    "Anything else is giving other people power" - that really spoke to me deeply.

    I feel like I understand better where the author and your reaction were both coming from - I wasn't clear in your post and actually feel almost in complete agreement with you. I sure do wish we lived nearer so we could visit and chat in person - I imagine sitting enjoying a cup of tea and talking with you would be lovely :)

    BTW - thanks for your help suggesting teas - I'm happy to share it has been over a week since I've had coffee in the morning and I love the clearer since of myself I am finding in the morning with the coffee burden!

  5. :) Somehow both my responses were posted even though blogger told me the first was too long!
    Go figure!

    I will leave both in case I said things differently in each.

  6. Jenna,

    I love Brene Brown's work - I just read her book, "Daring Greatly" and it is so good. I even like that she ended with parenting and that chapter is really good. I especially liked her parenting manifesto.

    But I totally agree with you about what you have written here. It's disappointing that people can't get past a "punishing mindset" that comes with "accountability". People simply haven't seen that kindness and compassion can "work" so they don't believe it's possible. (more importantly, it's not that it works, but that is what compassion means!) I'm on a compassion kick too - I wrote about it last fall for Blog Action Day. And like you I think it all starts with our children. This past month I've been harping on kindness. ;-) People seem to be in agreement... but soon I'm going to write about how punishment is NOT kind and we'll see how many people jump off my bandwagon!!

    I am often disappointed when I find people that seem to be all about peace, love, compassion etc. but then they fail to fully extend it to children. I think this is common. Many people aren't open to this message yet, but more and more I'm finding people that are, so that is hopeful!

    I really liked this, "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 will share... Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  7. As a mother of adult children, a 15 year pro group, child care provider, a college design Professor and Employer/Architect, I agree with Brene' Brown's book exactly as she wrote her book... maybe it is my experience, maturity and training, so I get it and I will continue to be clearer on clarity, communication plus boundaries and I hold others accountable.


  8. Joni,
    Over 2,500 people have read my Compassion post, and yet very few have taken the time to comment. It would seem then that this post pushed your buttons, particularly since you spent most of your comment listing your accomplishments, credentials and even your maturity to validate yourself and your views.

    While you may agree with Brown's book exactly as she wrote it, it seems that you may have failed to grasp the point of my blog. If you read the comments, where I explain in further detail my perspective, I would think that the point is clear, but let me sum it up in a few sentences.

    There is nothing wrong with being clear, communicating, having boundaries ,and holding others accountable, however, this is not where compassion begins. Compassion begins with accepting others as they are and loving them unconditionally. Particularly when it comes to children, we cannot condemn their behavior without condemning them, because children's behaviors are a way of expressing themselves and getting their needs met. No one needs to change or meet our demands/expectations to merit our compassion, true compassion, in the Buddhist sense, is extended to all living creatures all of the time.

    I'll leave you with another Pema Chödrön quote to consider: Compassion is threatening to the ego.