Compassion and kindness are very much like the muscles in our bodies: we need to attend to them regularly to stay emotionally flexible and strong. Recently, I was at a movie, heading for the bathroom; I found myself nervous about walking in front of my friends and blocking their view. I jumped a barrier to eschew walking in front of them, but I landed awkwardly and ended up hurting my foot. That’s the kind of move my body is usually able to handle, but not staying flexible left me open to injury. I’d imagined moving past folks to get to the aisle would inconvenience them, but I didn’t imagine at the time the inconvenience to me of spending weeks with my foot in a boot.
When we stay conscious and intentional in our relationships, we are more flexible to practice compassion and kindness. When we engage in our relationships from a place of compassion and kindness, we stay emotionally flexible and forgiving. We can grant ourselves and others the benefit of the doubt, and assume all parties have positive intentions. The flexibility serves as a cushion or insulation against the annoyances, disappointments or anxiety that could otherwise trigger our anger. By staying emotionally flexible and choosing a conscious response, we avoid the reactivity that spikes our anger and the defensiveness that keeps us rigid.
Had I kept my body limber, I wouldn’t have made myself susceptible to such a silly injury. The same applies in my relationships: when I approach them with compassion and loving kindness, I’m less susceptible to taking things personally and becoming reactive. Are you emotionally rigid or inflexible in your relationships? Do you become angry, do you withdraw, or do you become defensive? How can you practice responding to interactions with compassion? The more emotionally flexible you are, the better you’ll be at taking things in stride and the cycle proves self-reinforcing.
Written by Matthew LeBauer and Jamie Diaz