There is a misconception, says Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg, that developing a more loving heart will make us weak. She explains how loving others — especially those with whom we have an adverse relationship — can be empowering.
This clip was filmed during a conversation at JCC Manhattan with bell hooks and Lion’s Roar’s Melvin McLeod. The event was sponsored by Lion’s Roar in partnership with the Garrison Institute and the JCC Manhattan.
Sharon Salzberg: I find many people think of love or compassion as something that will weaken you. You don’t want to love this, you know, person you’re in an adverse relationship with because that means giving in, that means surrendering. It means giving up your values, giving up your protestation. Why does it mean that?
I think one of the most indelible images in my mind, or my whole life, is watching some documentary about Freedom Riders going out in the South to register people to vote and, you know, getting down on the ground and praying. And then getting up and going forward and getting beaten up and then be in the hospital. There’s one guy who looked really bad in the hospital and somebody went to interview him and he was radiant. You know, he said, “We practice non-violence.” And I thought “Where does that come from?” You know, I’d have a hard time generating that kind of radiance with like a bad cab driver. And look at that, look at what he could do.
So there have been times that where for different people we don’t see love as giving in. We see it is not being afraid, we see it as touching something so much greater than the situation we’re in. We see it as a wellspring of strength. Just in my years of loving kindness, not even the time we’re in now, which is kind of harrowing, but in my years of teaching loving kindness there have been so many people have said to me, “If I were to develop a more loving heart I’d have to give him more money, I’d have to let them move back in, I wouldn’t take a stand, I wouldn’t protect myself, I wouldn’t care about other people. I’d just sort of smile. And I’ve often thought, and it was one of the reasons I was so grateful to find your work, what a degraded notion of love we’ve come to that we think that’s what it means.” So I think there’s also something empowering, although not easy, in saying I’m going to recapture that word.