Right (Brain) Meets Left in Expanding the Pie

Right (Brain) Meets Left in Expanding the Pie

I love it when experts approaching a topic from different perspectives converge on the same conclusion. The Book of Joy[1] describes the Buddhist practice of mudita, or sympathetic joy. Unlike schadenfreude, a feeling of satisfaction or pleasure in another’s misfortune mudita means feeling joy for someone else’s good fortune.

“Mudita recognizes that life is not a zero-sum game, that there is not just one slice of cake in which someone else’s taking more means we get less.”[2] It’s not as if there’s a fixed amount of joy out there, not enough joy to go around. Rather, the potential for joy is unlimited.

The Dalai Lama compares humankind to a family. Family members’ moods are contagious because the family is interconnected. As the old saying goes, ”If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” But happy parents—I mean true joy, not just the momentary satisfaction one feels if, for example, she gets a new car—joyful parents spread that joy to their children, and vice versa.

Buddhism is about as right-brained as you can get. And here, it converges with left-brained research from the Harvard Negotiation Project: most things in life don’t have to be a zero-sum game.

Even the food imagery coincides. The Book of Joy speaks of cake. Getting to Yes tells us not to think of the subject of a negotiation as a fixed pie, but rather, to look for ways to expand the pie.

I often heard one of the authors, Dr. Roger Fisher, repeat the example of two children squabbling over an orange. Their mom could simply cut the orange in half. Or, she could ask why each child wants the orange. One wants juice. The other wants orange peel for cooking. So mom juices the orange. Both kids get 100% of what they really wanted, a whole orange’s worth of juice for one, a whole orange’s worth of peel for the other.

You can read pie-expanding examples more challenging than dividing oranges, in my books, Bridges to Consensus and Love on the Rocks with a Twist.

For now, let’s return to joy. According to the Dalai Lama, joy comes from compassion, the ability to mentally put yourself in someone else’s shoes. We grow our own joy by helping others.

He writes of the Chinese takeover of his native Tibet. He was whisked away to India. His friend Lopon-la was sent to a Chinese labor camp where prisoners went hungry and shoeless, even if it was so cold that, “when you spit, it would land as ice.” Once, They were tortured by a horrible combination of Soviet, Chinese, and Japanese methods.

I couldn’t imagine any of those prisoners surviving more than a few months. Out of the original group of 130 prisoners, 25, including Lopon-la, survived eighteen years,  then were allowed to go to India. What the survivors shared was compassion.

During his captivity, Lopon-la believed his greatest danger was the chance of losing compassion for the Chinese guards. This might seem foolish, unimaginable. But when this man somehow managed to remain empathetic with those who mistreated him, he saved his own life. It was OK for him to wish the guards joy, because joy requires compassion. If the guards achieved true joy, they would have become more compassionate. How could that harm the prisoners?

Those guards, no doubt, began by simply following orders. If, in time, a guard came to accept, or even enjoy, the horrible things he had to do, that guard couldn’t have felt true joy. The two aren’t compatible. On the other hand, if he never grew numb to the horrors he inflicted, but continued for fear of having the same done to him, that wasn’t joyful either. One way or another, the guard’s job dug him deeper and deeper into all that is opposite of joy. His soul was being eaten alive.

So, if one can’t have joy without compassion, what could Lopon-la lose by wishing the guards joy? If a guard attained some measure of joy, and thus, compassion, he might go a little easier on prisoners when he could safely do so. In any case, a guard’s joy didn’t take from from a fixed pie of joy, such that there was less available for the prisoners. Meanwhile, a prayer for the guards’ joy saved Lopon-la’s soul as well as his life.

So I thought I’d try something that might astound those who know me—adding President 45 to my prayer list. Then I paused. What if he can’t achieve true joy? Some people are incapable of compassion, and thus, of joy. What if he’s one of them?

But I don’t have to tell The Universe or God or The Oneness or whoever or whatever responds to prayers what would be best for that man. I simply pray for him and leave the details to something bigger than myself.

In doing so, I discovered a three-way convergence from different perspectives. Buddhist Mudita not only meets left-brain negotiation, it meets the Christian idea, “Love your enemies. Do to those who hate you,”[3] and they both meet “The Law of Attraction.”

I have a copy of The Secret[4] so well-thumbed it’s falling apart. It’s about the way we attract what we focus on, whether bad or good. Lately, before bed, I open it at random and read a page or two. Last night, after drafting the above, I opened The Secret at random to this:

Praising and blessing dissolves all negativity, so praise and bless your enemies. If you curse your enemies, the curse will come back to harm you. If you praise and bless them you will dissolve all negativity and discord, and the love of the praising and blessings will return to you. As you praise and bless, you will feel yourself shift into a new frequency with the feedback of good feelings.[5]

I haven’t quite wrapped my mind around the praising part yet, but blessing seems pretty much the same as praying for others’ joy, and therefore, their compassion. So the above passage confirms my decision to do so.

Like Lopon-la, I’ve got nothing to lose, and at the very least, something for my own soul to gain.

 

[1] The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams, Avery, New York, 2016

[2] Ibid., p. 140

[3] Luke 6:27

[4] Rhonda Byrne, Atria Books, New York, 2006

[5] Ibid. p. 152

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