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When in doubt, be the Buddha…

This past weekend, the Dalai Lama visited Boston to share wisdom with his faithful. The Tibetan spiritual leader, 14th in a succession of reincarnations of the Buddha of compassion, had a clear message: “Warmheartedness” he said, was the basis for peace and happiness. He reminded them to “Be kind whenever possible,” adding “It’s always possible.” His Holiness also believes one needs tolerance, love and respect – towards oneself and toward others – to ensure a happy life. And these must be shown toward everyone, even those with whom one strongly disagrees.
Eager to see if I was up to this challenge, I set out the next day to be the person the Dalai Lama described. If I could contribute in some small way to a more harmonious world, it would be well worth the effort. And how hard could it be? Within minutes, I had my answer.

My friend Janie and I like to walk the banks of the Charles River. A popular destination for walkers, runners, cyclists and rollerblading, every day thousands of people take advantage of this idyllic setting and the miles of smooth, paved surfaces it offers. Generally, people seem to co-exist quite well, respectful of the ways in which others use this beautiful public space. This morning turned out to be an exception; we’ll get back to that in a minute.

On our way to the river, we walked through an exclusive neighborhood of expensive homes, and witnessed a woman searching for cans and bottles in recycling bags by the curb. She could redeem them for five cents each, and maybe realize a few dollars if she had a good day. Most residents are fine with this practice, recognizing that the nickels for the containers they’ve tossed added up for someone in need. But not the resident of this building, who instead loudly chastised the woman for searching the recycling bags. Remembering I was supposed to have compassion for all – even for those with whom I disagree – I dug deep for this man, and decided to attribute his words and actions to the fact he was having a bad morning. I tried not to judge.
My friend and I began our walk on the river, keeping to the right on the paved surface for bicycle traffic. Unfortunately, we were not quite far enough right for one cyclist who sped by us at 30 MPH, yelling an obscenity as he did. Moments later another cyclist came upon us, shouting “This is NOT a walkway!!” It is, actually, but trying to explain that would have been fruitless – he was long gone. Compassion for these individuals, I had to admit, was even harder to find.

Within just a few more moments, though, any warmheartedness I had left had gone cold. While we waited at a busy intersection a siren sounded, and drivers did their best to make way for an approaching ambulance. One pulled his car into the crosswalk to make room, and was promptly told by a pedestrian (in front of his children) that the driver “needed to go back to driving school.” We had been out exactly one hour, and were either the targets of, or witnesses to, four incidents of incivility. I was beginning to realize that the Dalai Lama’s instructions for warmheartedness toward all was a tall order.

Stressors can get the better of any of us. Or at least they can of me. (I was heartened to read that the Dalai Lama said they also occasionally get the better of him.) Allowing for that, there still seems to be an increasingly loud drumbeat of gratuitous incivility that injures not only the targets, but also the agents themselves. Few of us get away with discourteous behavior without some ramifications or feelings of guilt.

So what do we do? I think we allow for others’ humanness as well as our own, and do our best each day with the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Deciding to “be the Buddha” to the greatest extent we can helps us find the best in others and in ourselves. It’s a start.