I’ve Been Thinking … Seeing The Goodness
“It never hurts to see the good in someone. They often act the better because of it.”- Nelson Mandela
When we bring respect and honor to those around us, we open a channel to their own goodness. I have seen this truth in working with students, refugees, prisoners and gang members. When they experience someone who respects and values them, it gives them the ability to admire themselves, to accept and acknowledge the good inside. When we see what is holy in another, whether we meet them in our family or our community, at a business meeting or in a therapy session, we transform their hearts.
Some years ago, I heard the story of a high school history teacher who knew this same secret. On one particularly fidgety and distracted afternoon she told her class to stop all their academic work. She let her students rest while she wrote on the blackboard a list of the names of every one of the 26 students in the class. Then she asked them to copy the list. She instructed them to use the rest of the period to write beside each name one thing they liked or admired about that student. At the end of class she collected the papers.
Weeks later, on another difficult day just before winter break, the teacher again stopped the class. She handed each student a sheet with his or her name on top. On it she had pasted all twenty-six good things the other students had written about that person. They smiled and gasped in pleasure that so many beautiful qualities were noticed about them.
Three years later this teacher received a call from the mother of one of her former students. Robert had been a cut-up, but also one of her favorites. His mother sadly passed on the terrible news that Robert had been killed in the Gulf War. The teacher attended the funeral, where many of Robert’s former friends and high school classmates spoke. Just as the graveside service was ending, Robert’s mother approached her. She took out a worn piece of paper, obviously folded and refolded many times, and said, “This was one of the few things in Robert’s pocket when the military retrieved his body.” It was the paper on which the teacher had so carefully pasted the twenty-six things his classmates had admired.
Seeing this, Robert’s teacher’s eyes filled with tears. As she dried her wet cheeks, another former student standing nearby opened her purse, pulled out her own carefully folded page, and confessed that she always kept it with her. A third ex-student said that his page was framed and hanging in his kitchen; another told how the page had become part of her wedding vows. The perception of goodness invited by this teacher had transformed the hearts of her students in ways she might only have dreamed about.
To see with sacred perception does not mean we ignore the need for change or development in an individual. But it starts with a most radical vision, one that transforms everyone it touches: a recognition of the seeds of goodness and an offering of dignity and respect to all.
Jack Kornfield trained as a Buddhist monk in the monasteries of Thailand, India, and Burma, and he is one of the key teachers to introduce Buddhist mindfulness practice to the West. He is the co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society and of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California and a best-selling author. Jack was one of the leaders at the first-ever White House Buddhist Leadership Conference in 2015.