The fourth and final way we meet our needs that Dr. Rick Hanson discusses in his book Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakeable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness is relating skillfully to others and the world. (Listen to poet David Whyte read his poem Everything is Waiting for You and see if it doesn’t inspire you to relate to your world more effectively. And if you are so inclined, you may listen to the On Being interview with him here. What Whyte has to say is surprisingly relevant to this conversation. I’ll admit I fell a little in love with him after listening.) The three inner strengths we draw on in successful relating are courage, aspiration, and generosity.
Relationships can feel risky. Many of us can relate to what Dr. Hanson says about encounters with other people being among some of his scariest experiences ever. Add to that a pandemic, and we all feel socially awkward. This is why courage is one of the inner strengths we must foster in relating skillfully to others. Hanson points out that the root meaning of “courage” is “heart.” In her TED talk The Power of Vulnerability, Brené Brown elaborates on the origin of the word. “I want to separate courage and bravery for you for a minute,” she says, around eight minutes and forty-five seconds into the speech. “Courage…it’s from the Latin word ‘cor,’ meaning heart. And the original definition was ‘to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.’”
This goes hand in hand with Hanson’s first tool for growing courage: speaking from the heart with self-respect and skill. Before we can talk openly to someone, Dr. Hanson urges us first to be safe, emotionally and physically. He walks us through recognizing danger, being clear about our own truth, and “talking about talking,” or devising a plan for interacting before broaching difficult subjects. Once safety is ascertained, interactions are more likely to be successful if they focus on sharing experiences rather than solving problems.
“…’problem talk’ can easily slide into arguments, especially if the topic is charged or if there is a backlog of undelivered communications. On the other hand, ‘experience talk’ rests on safer ground. If you say, ‘It is bad when X happens,’ another person could dispute that, but if you say, ‘I feel bad when X happens,’ it’s harder for someone to say, ‘Oh no you don’t!’ Your experience is not itself a demand upon others, so simply sharing it is less likely to provoke a push back.”
As strategies to help speak from the heart, Hanson also encourages “speaking wisely,” using “I” statements, using a structured way of speaking, and trying to be compassionate about all that might be going on inside another person. He outlines a few good techniques that go along with each of these, such as this mental checklist for wise speech from the Buddhist tradition:
1. Well intended: is aimed at helping, not hurting; is not based on ill will
2. True: everything need not be said, but whatever is said is accurate and honest
3. Beneficial: is enjoyable or useful to others, oneself, or both
4. Timely: comes when it is appropriate
5. Not harsh: what is said may be firm, passionate, or heated, but the tone and words are not mean, belittling, or abusive
6. Wanted: be thoughtful about intruding upon others; nonetheless, speak up as you judge best
Asserting yourself is a second tool Hanson discusses to help grow our courage. He specifically reviews some helpful tools to boost assertiveness when disagreements arise. He suggests we establish what the relevant facts are, clarify what is most important in an issue, stay on point, deal with one issue at a time, focus on the future instead of the past, ask rather than demand, and be specific and concrete in your agreements.
Because relationships are dynamic and we are not perfect, repairing relationships is a necessary part of life, and also something that helps us develop courage. Hanson says, “When you make repairs, double-check what you think happened. Then get on your own side and don’t be embarrassed about telling others that you’ve been let down, hurt, or mistreated. If necessary, shrink the relationship to a size and shape that is safe for you.”
“To live is to lean into the future,” says Rick Hanson. We are more resilient when we are in the right relationship with our hopes and dreams. In this chapter, Hanson explores how to pursue our goals and remain at peace with whatever happens.
Dr. Hanson begins this discussion by asking us to think about our earliest memories and the dreams we held during our childhood. Then he challenges us to consider what happened to those ambitions and secret hopes. He suggests a combination of many things can lead us to abandon our deepest desires. He discusses the opinions of others and fear of failure as two primary contributors.
“To act upon your dreams in concrete ways,” Hanson encourages us to consider the areas of love, work, and play in our lives. He has us mentally assess each of these areas to determine what is going well and what we’d like to change. Then, to improve or act on the desired changes, he has us imagine (or write out, as I did) our likes, talents, and values in separate circles. Then he encourages us to think of—and act on—ways to make these three circles overlap more.
Our aspirations may change over time, as 103-year-old Dorothy Pollack understands, but when we learn to hold them loosely, pursuing them can be a source of satisfaction in life. To pursue big dreams and also be at peace with the outcome, we must aspire without attachment, Hanson says. To do this, we must have a growth mindset, know it’s alright to fail, and not take the outcome personally. He also points out that it is easier to hold our aspirations loosely when we view them as an offering to others.
“At first glance, generosity may not seem like a mental resource, but it strengthens you with a sense of the fullness that’s already inside you while also connecting you with others,” Rick Hanson tells us. The irony of generosity is the more you give, the more your life and health receive benefits.
Hanson begins the discussion on generosity with a focus on everyday giving, encouraging us to notice the many little ways we give in passing during an ordinary day. He then moves on to look at having compassion with equanimity, so we are motivated to keep giving without burning out. Dictionary.com defines equanimity as mental or emotional stability or composure, especially under tension or strain; calmness; equilibrium. Bringing equanimity to our compassion guards against compassion fatigue and helps us take action. According to Dr. Hanson, “action eases despair” and pushes back on feelings of helplessness when faced with the suffering in the world.
Dr. Hanson then embarks on a thorough discussion of one of the hardest forms of generosity—forgiveness—both that for others and for ourselves. It’s easier to fully forgive someone if they admit their wrongdoing, show remorse and try to make amends. But even if the person doesn’t demonstrate any of these qualities, it’s much healthier for you if you are able to extend forgiveness. “There are two types of forgiveness,” Hanson says. “Without offering someone a full pardon, you can still disentangle yourself from resentment by considering that person’s perspective, deliberately choosing to forgive, and letting go of ill will.”
The final topic Dr. Hanson discusses is very relevant in today’s culture and has far-reaching repercussions. That is, “widening the circle of us.” As we go through life, our brains categorize people into two groups: those who are like us and those who are different. Research supports the fact that we tend to favor those we see as similar to us and treat those who are different with less generosity, sometimes even hostility. Dr. Hanson notes this practice is not good for anyone.
“For individuals, the ‘them-ing’ of others is stressful, blocks opportunities for friendship and teamwork, and fuels conflicts. For humanity as a whole, ‘us’ against ‘them’ worked in the Stone Age, but with billions of people now living interdependently together, hurting them is hurting us. Expanding your circle of ‘us’ is not just generous to others, it’s good for you as well.”
Hanson walks us through a couple imagery exercises to help us widen the circle of us and embrace the truth that we are all human beings—alike in more ways than different. We all feel joy and pain, have dreams and fall in love. When we widen the circle of us, we make room for more beauty in our lives.
Congratulations! You’ve done it! We’ve done it together. We’ve made it through a potentially life-changing book. We began this journey with the goal of nurturing a state of mind that promotes wellness and resilience, not just during a pandemic, but for a lifetime. How are you putting the principles we’ve studied into practice and letting your brain be changed?
Here’s the book club schedule:
In September, Callie Feyen will take us to the theatre with Sonia Barkat for Winter Stars: Three 10-Minute Plays: From Tragedy to Fantasy to Comedy. These compact little plays carry deep truths we’ll explore together.