In 2009, I taught the Stanford Compassion Cultivation Training Program at Google. My group of Googlers included engineers as well as people from various other technical and non-technical positions. Diverse in temperament and ethnicity, these folks shared a typical Googler profile: They were young, tired, overworked, stressed about deadlines, and smart. My task was to teach them how to become more compassionate using an accessible program of exercises drawn from Tibetan Buddhist meditation and Western psychology. First, however, I had to convince them that it was worth their precious time to learn how to stop, settle the mind, and open the heart.
Why should they bother? Because it works. Compassion can transform how we respond to the toughest stuff in life, making us not only happier but also more effective.
When facing adversity, we can either shut down or we can open up. Our immediate, defensive inclination is to close, to follow the seductive but narrowing pull of emotions such as anger or fear. Opening up is better for clear-headed decision-making and creative problem solving (so the data show). But it is difficult. It requires a good measure of self-compassion and a softness toward the situation and those involved.
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