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Excerpt from "Love Your Enemies"

Looking for the Good

by Tenzin Robert Thurman and Sharon Salzberg

Kindness is a potent tool for transformation, since it requires us to step outside our conditioned response patterns. Ordinarily, we’re so preoccupied with ourselves and defended against the Other—especially in these terrorist, orange-alert times—that we feel continually threatened and anxious. We forget how connected to one another we are, and this perceived division feeds our antipathy and feelings of alienation. This limited perspective prompts us to respond in ways that are less creative, reducing the possibilities for happiness.

When I was first learning lovingkindness meditation in Burma, one of the preliminary exercises was to look for the good in someone, even in someone you didn’t like. On hearing those instructions, my first thought was That’s silly! I’m not going to do that. That’s what stupid people do—they go around looking for the good in people. And I don’t even like people who are like that!

Nonetheless, I followed my teacher’s instructions and had an eye-opening experience as a result. I thought of someone whose behavior I generally found irritating and obnoxious. Then I had a memory of seeing him do something beautiful for a mutual friend. Immediately I thought, I don’t want to look at that! It will just complicate things! It was a lot easier to keep going over his faults, to keep him the box marked “enemy” and “this one I don’t like.”

Our default position seems to be the belief that people are fixed entities rather than ever-changing beings with a whole range of possible behaviors. Seeing others in all their complexity requires emotional intelligence; it represents a major step in psychological development. Our first lesson in emotional complexity comes when we are children. At first we see our parents as all good, and then later as all bad. As we mature, ideally, we arrive at an understanding that the truth lies somewhere in the middle: our parents are neither all good nor all bad but a mixture of both. Unless we can accept this inherent ambiguity, we will miss the complexity of other people, as well as the ability to be flexible in our attitudes toward them. Even when we can’t seem to find something good about someone, we can remind ourselves what we have in common. Every human being is vulnerable to change, loss, and insecurity. And every human being wants to be happy, regardless of how misguided their efforts might seem to be.

In the Koran, God tells humanity, “We made you . . . into nations and tribes that ye might know one another.”[1] This affirmation of the oneness of humanity, despite the distinctions of nation and tribe, expresses the understanding that such distinctions should lead to a better understanding of each other, not enmity. Just as we could not practice patience without annoyance, or compassion without enemies, we could not do away with duality, Us against Them, without significant differences to overcome.

Tenzin Robert Thurman, a professor at Columbia University, holds the first endowed chair in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in America. A cofounder and the president of Tibet House New York, he is the author of the bestseller Inner Revolution, as well as Anger, Infinite Life, and numerous other books. The first Tibetan Buddhist monk from the West, he has been a close friend and colleague of the Dalai Lama many years.

Sharon Salzberg, cofounded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and is the New York Times best-selling author of eight books, including Lovingkindness, Faith, and Real Happiness. She blogs for The Huffington Post, has been a contributing editor at O, the Oprah Magazine, and has been featured in Time, Real Simple, Good Housekeeping, Self, Tricycle: the Buddhist Review, Shambhala Sun, and other periodicals.

Purchase info:

Available at Amazon, Barnes + Noble and other bookstores.

Hay House grants permission for this excerpt.

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