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The Dalai Lama is a hero of mine, whom I hope to become more like, along with Mother Teresa and other humanitarians. He recognizes that destructive emotions are at the root of so much suffering. He and a group of psychologists and scientists met in a dialogue to discuss destructive emotions, their impact on our lives, and to question if they are necessary or if they can be eliminated to a significant degree. The Dalai Lama and Western scientists/psychologists spell out different types of destructive emotions according to the Buddhist and Western perspectives. There's a lot of overlap between the two perspectives, yet Buddhism categorizes destructive emotions into three main categories: hatred, delusion, and craving; other toxic emotions are derivatives of these three.
The scientists ask: are destructive emotions the trade-off in our evolutionary history? Or can we bypass them? The Dalai Lama and the scientists were delighted to discover the brain's plasticity: new neural pathways can be formed throughout the course of a person's life. Even hardened criminals can improve with intervention and empathy training. (I remember watching a special on TV where inmates were responsible for taking care of cats. I was surprised and delighted to learn that these men grew to love these animals and took pride in caring for them.)
The Dalai Lama talks about the antidotes to toxic emotions and spells out ways we can nurture them. For example, compassion is the obvious antidote to hatred and anger. He talks about the important bond between a mother and child and other close family members. We can practice feeling similar compassion towards non-relations and love them as though they were a close family member.
The Dalai Lama and scientists discuss the very important difference between hating what a person did and hating the actual person. We can hate a person's mistakes, especially if they are far-reaching, but it is better to abstain from hating the actual person. Although I hate what Hitler did and how deluded he was, I can feel compassion for the fact that he was an abused child whose parents were related (his mother was his father's niece--it would be hard to be normal and well-adjusted under those circumstances). Although I love my dad and dementia has softened his personality, I understand firsthand what it's like to live with someone who has a volatile temperament--Alois Hitler was extremely short-tempered and would blow up without any provocation. Even Alois's friends would comment on how cruelly he treated his wife and children; even when guests were present, he was said to treat them in an undervaluing, humiliating fashion. I'm sure that Adolf grew up listening to his unpleasant, short-fused father rant and rave against Jewish people and other European scapegoats (yet you can even feel compassion for Alois--he was illegitimate in a time when that was a big deal and a defining characteristic, and he was passed around to be raised by different relations, never quite sure who his father was; that must have really dogged him, made him feel unwanted, and contributed to his unpleasantness). Bear in mind that Adolf Hitler was on some serious, mind-altering steroids that would have made even Mother Teresa (an earth angel if ever there was) somewhat aggressive and irritable. These circumstances don't excuse the man's cruelty and delusions, but it does help put his far-reaching mistakes into a more compassionate context. He could not have been more wrong, yet it is better to hate what he did and his mindset than to hate the man himself. Also, it's pretty obvious from a psychological standpoint that all the anti-semitic (anti-slavic, anti-gypsy, etc.) things he said had nothing to do with the Eurpean Jewish people and his other targets and had everything to do with how badly Hitler felt about himself (the consequence and combination of being part of a sick, anti-semitic culture and domestic violence). He was picking on easy scapegoats/targets to deflect his own self-hatred and feelings of inadequacy. I think that it's very telling that he never actually visited a death camp--that seems to indicate that on some level he knew that what he had implemented was completely wrong and didn't want to witness the suffering firsthand. And as my mother says, he didn't do it alone; he had lots of sociopathic, deluded people who went along with him. Anyrate, enough about one of history's most misguided persons. But the Dalai Lama does help us to see the important difference between hating someone's mistakes versus hating the person.
The Dalai Lama wants everyone to have the tools to overhaul destructive emotions, but he especially feels that school age children need guidance from well-trained teachers. Some of the scientists wrongfully assumed that teacher's training programs don't include courses in child psychology, particularly socioemotional development. This is the point where I wanted to say teachers take lots of classes in child development, from cognitive, physical, to emotional development. Teachers also take classes in classroom management where they are taught to "sandwich" criticism. That is, a teacher will point out something specific that a child is doing well, tactfully suggest an area that needs to be improved, and then say another positive thing that the child is doing. Teachers also are encouraged to make it sound like the area of weakness is well within the child's ability to correct. Love & Logic is a classroom management technique that really involves diplomacy and consideration for the child's feelings (Jim Fay is the creator of Love & Logic).
Of course, teachers can always improve and do things better---but I think these scientists should have checked their facts b/f making blanket statements about teacher's training programs. But I do agree that schools can help foster empathy and emotional skills in school age children.
Overall, I found this to be an enlightening dialogue, initiated and led by a great guru of compassion, the Dalai Lama.