A Heart at Peace

By Danny
Last week on the post One Key To Developing Compassion for the Offender, somebody had a great question/comment. You can read the full comment here, but it can be summed up as follows:

“If we don’t call people out on bad, rude, unkind behavior, then I feel like we have no standards left at all. Sure, everyone is fighting a battle of some sort, but if there is no expectation from others – from their community or society as a whole – why would they make any effort at all to over come those struggles?”

This question, in some form or another, arises nearly every time the ideas of compassion are discussed on this blog…for good reason. No one wants to get walked all over, treated as a doormat, or dehumanized. Unfortunately, sometimes when this concept of compassion and understanding and patience is advocated, it sounds like you’re telling someone to do exactly that—get treated as a doormat, or just play nice and it will all go away.

But that isn’t what I’m advocating at all. Practicing Compassion has nothing to do with whether or not you respond, but everything to do with HOW you respond.

Because it’s fresh on my mind, I’ll use MLK as an example. In those days (and all the days preceding the civil rights movement, and many days after it), you had an entire section of our society being treated poorly (that word is an understatement). People had been walked all over, treated as doormats, and dehumanized for far too long. To not respond at all to such treatment would likely create the scenario the commenter was concerned about – if individuals or society aren’t going to be called out on their bad behavior, why would they change?

MLK stood up to this oppression, along with many, many others. Though it would be impossible to draw a clear line, it is safe to say that some people who stood up to the oppression did so with a “heart at war“. Others who stood up did so with a “heart at peace“. Both kinds of people absolutely influenced change. The question is which kind of heart do you want to have, and which path is more likely to have longer lasting positive impacts for all sides?

For MLK, Compassion seemed to be the rule of the day. I’m sure there were weak moments, I’m sure there were mistakes. But Compassion was the guiding principle underlying his movement’s stand.

Here is the commitment card you needed to sign in order to join the movement:

I hereby pledge myself—my person and body—to the nonviolent movement. Therefore I will keep the following ten commandments:

1. Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
2. Remember always that the non—violent movement seeks justice and reconciliation — not victory.
3. Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
4. Pray daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.
5. Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all men might be free.
6. Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
7. Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
8. Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
10.Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain on a demonstration.

I sign this pledge, having seriously considered what I do and with the determination and will to persevere.

Touching on a similar principle behind Compassion that I shared last week (that the offender is often suffering themselves), MLK actually told the people he was marching with that their march wasn’t to liberate themselves, but to liberate those who despised and hated and abused them. He said they were not the ones being oppressed, it was those with racist attitudes who were oppressed by their hatred. He believed the best way to deliver them from their hatred was through love, peaceful demonstration, and non-violence.

It seems he was suggesting that if their hearts were full of love and compassion for their fellow man, then no matter what the social circumstances, they were the ones that were free. And even if he wasn’t suggesting that, I will.

Having this “heart at peace” and being full of compassion and understanding did not stop MLK and those who led the non-violent movement from standing up for something. It did not mean they sat idly by, nor did it mean they accepted what was unacceptable. It did not mean that reasonable boundaries didn’t need to be set and agreed upon for appropriate behavior respecting the rights of all people, or that people shouldn’t be called out when those boundaries were crossed. It did not mean he shouldn’t seek justice in the highest courts of the land, or that he shouldn’t persuade the highest office in the land of his cause.

Again, Compassion has little to do with whether or not you respond, but has everything to do with HOW your respond. It means cultivating your own “heart at peace” so that you can see things through the eyes of compassion and clarity, instead of being blinded by your own ego-based hatred, fears, resentment, and judgements.

Such a commitment to act with this kind of clarity was at the heart of MLK’s non-violent movement, and Gandhi’s. It is also at the heart of Jesus’s teachings, and Buddha’s, and all the great religions of the world.

It should similarly inform the core of our own little individual worlds, the ones that take place within the confines of your heart, mind, and soul.

I think if you read the rest of the comments to that post, you’ll see the power of that principle in action in the lives of everyday (and simultaneously amazing) people. You’ll read about people who stood up for themselves and for what they believed was acceptable behavior in a marriage. It’s quite possible that in the beginning, they did so with a heart at war, with resentment, hatred, fighting, blaming, and belittling. But judging by their comments, they sooner or later learned to approach it differently, and it led to their individual freedom…even if it didn’t change the other person. Some might have even experienced that liberation before the divorce, while everything was breaking down. I’m one of those people. The liberation came because I learned to Love, while also setting reasonable boundaries.

And I’m simply telling you it IS possible, and that it is deeply rewarding.


P.S.  I borrowed the terms “heart at peace” and “heart at war” from a book I read recently that I LOVED.  It is called the “The Anatomy of Peace” by the Arbinger Institute. It’s rare that you see a book on Amazon with hundreds of ratings and a 5 star average.  There is a good reason why.

I’d love to hear more stories from you readers, when you’ve either done this yourself, or seen it done, and what the result was. Who else has discovered the power of HOW you respond? You never know, sharing your story may positively influence another at just the right moment in their lives.  

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  1. Kay January 30, 2015 at 6:09 pm - Reply

    I unknowingly experienced this with my oldest sister a few months ago. She is very controlling, things have to be her way and she is easily offended. We had an unhealthy relationship for years where I would end up doing things her way just to avoid offending her and damaging the relationship. Recently instead of agreeing to do something I didn't want, I stood firm and calm and responded in a loving way. She pushed for a few hours until she realized she was getting nowhere. Sadly, she still chose to be offended and has made it clear that she wants nothing to do with me or my family until I apologize. That's exactly what she does every time "someone offends her", wait for others to come to her to mend things. The difference this time is that by reacting in a calm and loving way I have no regrets (where as before I would just run to her to apologize for my reaction and some more) I don't know if I'm right by doing this, but this time I decided to not apologize as doing so will put us back to were we've been over and over again. I still invite her to things, I still come to her and say hi at family functions, I pray for her and try to let her know that I still love her, but I refuse to fall in the same old dysfunctional patterns.

    Thank you for your blog. This post was inspiring! 🙂

    • danny January 30, 2015 at 8:10 pm - Reply

      This is a great example! Of course, it is very unfortunate that the results aren't what you'd want….and yet they are at the same time. She certainly isn't acting in a way that you'd want her to, but in the end there really is nothing you can do about that. That will always be her burden to bear until she decides to approach life and situations differently. And when she does, you've cultivated the stillness and compassion that will help you receive her with open arms, without any grudges or past offenses hanging over.

      I honestly love that. Again, I do wish it was actually possible to change another human being. But since you can't, you can do the next best thing. You step out of the dysfunction yourself, you develop personally the compassion that allows you to see someone more clearly, both of which gives them the healthiest possible space to come out of their own dysfunction. It's kind of like the saying "remove the beam out of your own eye" – if you really want to help someone, you need to learn how to step out of the dysfunction yourself. Only then can you help someone else.

  2. christina January 30, 2015 at 8:58 pm - Reply

    "It seems he was suggesting that if their hearts were full of love and compassion for their fellow man, then no matter what the social circumstances, they were the ones that were free. And even if he wasn't suggesting that, I will."

    Love what you wrote here. I've often thought that more attention (and appreciation) should be paid to the beauty of inner-freedom, the aspect of freedom that's dependent on NOTHING external. I distinctly remember the day I realized that although I wasn't always free to say or do as I wanted, I was 100% free to THINK whatever I wanted. I think I was around ten at the time, and this realization absolutely blew me away. It felt like such a gift. A gift that I had been walking around with my entire life and never noticed up to that point. Of course, as a human being, I *do* very much care about my physical circumstances and my civil liberties, but there is so much comfort to be found in the realization that I can NEVER be stripped of my inner-thoughts.

    • danny January 30, 2015 at 11:22 pm - Reply

      Your 10-year-old realization is exactly why I LOVE Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning! Because he show just how deep this gift you speak of goes, and it shows just how much of the comforts and rights you can be stripped of, and yet have this gift intact.

      Love that book! It has forever shaped my journey….but it sounds like you got the reader's digest version delivered straight to your soul…well done!

    • christina January 31, 2015 at 8:51 pm - Reply

      OK, you got me. Just ordered Man's Search for Meaning 🙂

  3. Carol January 31, 2015 at 7:04 pm - Reply

    I absolutely ADORE The Anatomy of Peace. When I was going thru an extremely difficult time in my life, my counselor made this book our "textbook". When I started implementing these ideas into my life, my days seemed to go better ; whether I let someone in on the freeway or when I was giving my daughter a bath.

    • danny January 31, 2015 at 8:34 pm - Reply

      Glad to have another fan. I keep meaning to do a post about this book, it is truly one of my very favorites. Besides, it does an amazing job at answering the kinds of questions that always pop up (like the one that inspired this post), in such a way that you leave TRULY understanding that path just a little bit clearer.

    • Carol January 31, 2015 at 10:49 pm - Reply

      This is one of they very few books I can read over and over again. The way I look at situations is totally different. The way I interact with my kids is different too. I'm consciously thinking about what is going on.

  4. Denise January 31, 2015 at 7:42 pm - Reply

    OOPS – looks like comment didn't go through so forgive me if I'm on repeat. Can we talk about The Anatomy of Peace? I found out about this book when you and Mara where interviewed on another blog. The techniques I learned about having a heart at peace were life changing for me. And I thought I learned about making peace with my pain when my older daughter died, little did I know, I am still learning. To make a very long story short, my younger daughter, at 18, fell in love with a boy who deceived her. It took a year for her to learn this, then another year out of her life trying to "fix" him. My beautiful daughter, how do you fix a heroin addict who supports his habit criminally? Convinced she was going to be caught in a shoot out, there was a lot of screaming, tears and disconnect. My previous trauma kicked it and caused me to have a heart filled with fear. But then I read the book and used it as a guide. My daughter broke off with him, at a cost, she felt she needed to change colleges and moved 700 miles away from home. She knows she is co-dependent because of the trauma of losing her older sister and needed to do this. The story might have a happy ending, she knows she wants to go for her doctorate and help young adults with trauma and addiction. She might fall again…but this ole lady has learned that she still has much to learn and I will fight to keep a heart of peace and not fear. My relationship with my daughter is more beautiful than words. Do you guys really understand how you get to us? Thank you from the bottom of my heart! P.S. The Victor Frankl book blew me away!

    • danny January 31, 2015 at 8:36 pm - Reply

      Oh man, Denise, what a roller coaster. I'm so glad that this book came through for you at such an important time, and helped you interact with your daughter in ways that led to greater peace for you, and decreased the chance that she'd react with resentment towards you.

      Thanks so much for sharing.

    • danny January 31, 2015 at 8:38 pm - Reply

      By the way Denise, if you enjoyed Viktor Frankl's book, might I also suggest a book that blew me away that has a very similar theme running through it. It is called "And There Was Light", by Jacques Lusseyran. I'd give a summary, but probably wouldn't do it justice…so just trust me and go buy it 🙂

  5. Denise January 31, 2015 at 11:27 pm - Reply

    "…joy does not come from outside, for whatever happens to us, it is within. The 2nd truth is that light does not come to us from without, light is in us, even if we have no eyes." (J. Lusseyran) You see, I told you that the two of you get to us and make a huge impact, either you or Mara also mentioned that one in your interview and at the time I was hungry for light and wisdom.

    • danny February 1, 2015 at 1:24 am - Reply

      Hahaha, I take it that means you already purchased it 🙂

  6. Jane February 1, 2015 at 4:05 pm - Reply

    I didn’t read the original comment, but as soon as I read Danny’s summary I smiled to myself, because that is an internal struggle I have on a regular basis. If I don’t call out my husband on his hurtful behavior, then he is getting away with it, I am enabling his addiction, and nothing will ever change.

    With the help of a good therapist and good blog posts like this, and friends who share similar beliefs, I am realizing that those are lies I tell myself to exaggerate my sense of control. It is my way of trying to make him change, which is ultimately not my responsibility.

    But I don’t really think that’s the point that Danny is trying to make, I think he is just suggesting that whatever I decide to do about my husband’s addiction, I do it with compassion.

    It’s hard to feel compassion without feeling like I’m letting my husband off the hook. It’s probably hard because it’s new to me and I’m still practicing.

    I’ve also discovered this same conflict applies to myself. If I offer myself compassion and “acceptance” of my short-comings, how will I ever change? I’m afraid if I am too gentle with myself, I’ll never overcome my weaknesses. But I’m slowly learning to believe, that compassion nurtures change, change motivated by love rather than self-hatred, and not only is it possible, it is more effective.

    In other words, the false belief I have is that if I love myself as I am, I will never change, and I WANT to change therefore I cannot love myself as I am. Or- if I accept my husband as he is, it means I am accepting unacceptable behavior, and therefore I cannot accept him as he is.

    The truth I'm discovering is that I believe that I can and likely will change, and can have a “heart of peace” in the process. Likewise, my husband will either change or not change, that is his choice, but I have the choice to have a “heart of peace” in the process as well.

    Anyway, sorry for the long comment, it’s been on my mind a lot lately and I hope I articulated my thoughts well enough.

    • danny February 1, 2015 at 6:27 pm - Reply

      Articulated perfectly! Beautiful. I think you describe well the process as it applies to others and ourselves, and I am grateful for those insights you shared as you've come to possibly see things in a different light. If you haven't already Jane, go buy that book 🙂 It will be right up your ally, and it will help you understand how such a change can be approached, and what it means.

      The book is written through the perspective of parents who have a troubled son (using drugs, long history of fighting, etc)…and so this concept of "what if by loving and understanding him I enable him" is addressed multiple times. I think it would be valuable for you and for the community you help support.

    • Jane February 2, 2015 at 9:32 am - Reply

      Thanks Danny. I have read the book actually, but it's been a few years and I know I would benefit from reading it again. I also really like Bonds That Make Us Free, by C Terry Warner, who I think is one of the founders of the Arbinger Institute.

  7. My Name is JACY February 4, 2015 at 12:33 am - Reply

    I actually just completed the 16 week Choice in Coaching program offered through Arbinger and it was incredible… and before that, I did an 8 week course with a personal life coach (who works for Arbinger) and went through the Anatomy of Peace step-by-step. LIFE CHANGING! I began to understand how to heal wounds that were not only taking over my life, but wounds that I thought would NEVER heal– Too much anger, too much bitterness, too much "but it's not my fault…". But once I opened my eyes and realized that I was in control of me, and that my heart was, infact, at war, I discovered how much power I held… and how change was possible… but it HAD to begging with me… and NO ONE ELSE. I loved this post. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • My Name is JACY February 4, 2015 at 12:34 am - Reply

      BEGIN with me, not begging 🙂

    • danny February 4, 2015 at 2:47 am - Reply

      Ooohhh, we need to chat. I've had it in my mind for some time that I would like to learn more from them/with them, and possibly do some kind of work with them in the future. Thanks for this comment! Whether now or in the near future, I'll be sending you an email to hear more about it!

    • My Name is JACY February 10, 2015 at 3:52 pm - Reply

      Danny! It is LIFE CHANGING! No, seriously. And worth EVERY DIME. I found that it changed my life and my journey and my healing waaaaaaaay more than I thought it ever could. I see life through new spectacles. I thought I was going in to learn how to help others– which I definitely was– but I came out a totally new person. I found so much within myself. It's pretty amazing. Yes, let's chat. Anytime. I can plug you in with some people 🙂

    • danny February 10, 2015 at 3:59 pm - Reply

      YES!!! I've been thinking for some time that I needed and "in" with these guys. So I would love to talk with you about it all. We've got some crazy busy stuff going on right now, but in a few weeks lets connect!

  8. It's great July 31, 2015 at 8:00 am - Reply

    This is really a wonderful post.

  9. Gary Lawlor August 19, 2017 at 11:10 am - Reply

    I don’t know whether people still read comments on posts as old as this one, but I’d like to add my two cents worth.

    I’ve developed this personal definition of the word “meekness”: Meekness is absorbing the initial hurt of an event, in order to create space to make the most helpful and appropriate response afterward.

    The most appropriate response will sometimes include calling someone out for bad behavior. It will sometimes mean standing up courageously for correct principles, or seeking justice for an offense. In my experience, though, in the day-to-day experiences of our lives, the most helpful response is more often a “soft answer that turneth away wrath,” a compassionate understanding of the other person’s needs, or the returning of good for evil. The reason these are more helpful is precisely because they often have a better chance of changing the other person’s heart, and helping them to overcome the struggles that have caused them to act badly.

    “Absorbing the initial hurt” means letting go of the natural desire to get back at someone, to get even, to extract a punishment in return for the hurt that the other person caused me. We have all experienced situations where we have looked back later and wished we had reacted differently, but were kept from doing so because of the perceived need to get back at someone.

    I like to play a word game with the word MEEK, separating it into ME + EK. The first half refers to the battle inside of me, and the decision to absorb the initial hurt. But if I stop there, it isn’t about meekness; it is only about ME. I then need to move to the second half, which is to try to make the most helpful response, whatever that may be.

    Where does the strength come from to be meek? It is no easy thing. It requires the cultivation of a heart at peace. I like the quote that Danny shared about stepping outside the situation as if watching a movie. My favorite quote about meekness comes from the Book of Mormon. The reference is Moroni 8:25-26. I see this passage as describing a regular cycle, perhaps a weekly cycle from one Sunday to the next. The key to meekness, according to this passage, is receiving from the Lord Jesus Christ a forgiveness of our own sins. This opens the door to being filled with perfect love.

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