Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Little Bit of Compassion 14

Intrapersonal versus Interpersonal

Interpersonal refers to how we relate to others while intrapersonal refers to how we relate to ourselves.  This is a very important distinction.  If we cannot really accept ourselves "warts and all" we will find it hard to accept ourselves for what and for who we are.  As a result we will find it much more difficult still to relate to others.  Therefore, we can say in a simplified but not simplistic way that we must learn to relate to ourselves first in a healthy way before learning to relate to others in a healthy way.  In a sense this is a simplified explanation as getting to know oneself and getting to accept oneself takes place within the nexus of inter-relationships with others.  I say simplified because all relating, whether to oneself or others is complex.  However, from lived experience we know that once we have learned to accept ourselves "warts and all" we can then move on to accepting others far more readily.  I hope that what I have expressed above is clear, as my linguistic and expressive ability is failing me here.  Nonetheless, the effort was worth it as I feel the point is important. 

In getting to grips with this distinction I have found the writings of Dr. Howard Gardner very instructive and enlightening.  Today Gardner and his followers or adherents refer to the possibility, or rather more correctly, the likelihood of there existing at least nine types of intelligence.  Others would add to this number, but the point here is, no matter what that number may be, there are more than just those types of intelligences like the logical (mathematical), spacial and verbal as are measured solely in the traditional IQ tests from the work of Albert Binet.  Gardner adverts to two intelligences among the nine which he calls the interpersonal intelligence and the intrapersonal intelligence and he sees these two as quite distinct.  The former refers to our emotional intelligence insofar as we inter-relate with others, while the latter refers to how good I am at listening to and accepting myself.  See the following site for a good description of MIs, and this site also has a load of links to other good sites.  Happy surfing! (MIs)You'll really enjoy it if you have not read about Gardner's wonderfully comprehensive and expansionist theory of intelligence. (In other words traditional IQ is limited and reductionist whereas MI is open-ended and expansive!)

Paul Gilbert in The Compassionate Mind reminds his readers that we can train our minds to be compassionate to the self and also be compassionate to others.  I have already said in my last post that really I am beginning to feel that this author has stolen the clothes of the Buddha and his followers as practically all of what he says has been said and indeed said better by the Buddhists.  However, he is bottling this old wine in the new bottles of a psychology which is based on scientific observation and testing.  He points out, again all already explained clearly in Buddhist writing and practice, that if we develop an inner relationship with ourselves based on a competitive mentality (as indeed the capitalist system wants us to do, because in that system everything is rated and has a price!), of needing to succeed at all we do, needing to achieve the highest results possible in any exam or project or even to control and impress others then we will only FEEL GOOD ABOUT OURSELVES WHEN EVERYTHING IS GOING WELL.  Then, of course, the obvious corollary of this faulty belief  is that we will FEEL MISERABLE AND DEPRESSED WHEN WE FAIL OR WHEN THINGS GO WRONG.  There is nothing new here, at all, Professor Gilbert.  This is indeed old wine in new wine skins!  Our author counsels his readers to practise a "caring mentality" towards themselves (that is, to exercise compassion towards themselves) because this will "encourage, support and soothe."  (Op.cit.,. p. 214)

Gilbert goes on in a Jungian aside to state that compassion developed from a care-providing social mentality and basic archetype. (Opus citatum, vide p. 216)  When we are compassionate to self and others the levels of feel-good hormones increase in our bodies and indeed our immune systems become stronger.  Compassion, Gilbert argues, is a major pattern generator in our brains - (are there shades of Gestalt psychology here, I wonder?)  He then outlines the Buddha's Eightfold Path which he deems to be the Buddhist programme for training the mind in compassion.

The Work of Kristin Neff:

Professor Gilbert then proceeds to quote the work of one contemporary researcher into happiness, that of Kristin Neff.   See the following link for Neff's work: KN: Self-Compassion.  Again, he informs us the his own thinking is based on an evolutionary neuroscience approach and that his approach and that of the Dalai Lama, and of Thich Nhat Hahn whom I have also quoted, are both based upon the use of practical kindness towards self and others. 

As I have already said, I feel slightly cheated because Gilbert is saying nothing new here about compassion and its exercise in our lives, and indeed much of what he says has been said better by the Buddha and his some of his more scholarly followers.  However, our scholar's neuroscientific approach has categorized the whole thing in a systematized, scientific and diagrammatic format to enable a scientific comprehension of the data that go to make up a compassionate action.  Below I will give a representation I have drawn of his diagram:


Apologies for my poor diagram above which I made in the Microsoft Paint Programme - as you can see I'm fairly poor at it!  This diagram shows the compassion circle with the central topic at the very centre, then the key attributes of compassion (Sensitivity, Sympathy, Distress Tolerance, Empathy, Non-Judgement and Care for Well-Being) in the inner ring, and finally the skills needed to develop these attributes in the outer ring (Imagery, Attention, Reasoning, Feeling, Behaviour and Sensory).  This needless to say leads to an overall feeling of warmth which bounds the set.  Professor Gilbert cautions against being too self-critical in developing the above attitudes and skills and sensibly advises that it is the combination and integration of all the compassionate qualities - that is, the pattern - that's important.

(To be continued)



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