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The Sixth Step is Action. As I quoted last week, Karen Armstrong specifically recommends that I take three daily small actions: one act a day of doing unto others, a second act of refraining from doing harm to others, and a third act of changing my thoughts from a negative flow to a positive one.
Armstrong’s suggestion is to take a moment late in the day to consider whether or not those three things have happened, “as you brush your teeth or put the cat out at the end of the day.” (p. 115) I thought it likely that I would need something a bit more structured, a written report. So, that was my initial experiment.
I’m making use of The Hawthorne Effect. That’s an annoying aspect of social science research that when you’re observing someone’s behavior, that person’s behavior changes simply because they are being observed. If you’re counting some action and that person is aware that you’re doing so, they’ll do it more. The Hawthorne Effect makes it hard to study people, but it can be a useful mechanism for change. If I want to get myself to do something more often, all I have to do is count the number of times I do it. The number will rise.
So far, I’ve managed to complete my written report all but one day this month. And, it’s working. I’m looking for opportunities now that I can count at the end of the day.
I’ve been kinder to family and friends in real life and more supportive to friends and acquaintances on Facebook.
This has been such a sad week. I’ve been conscious about when my thoughts go dark and worked to pull them back into the light, while being careful not to let that process erase my grief or trample on the mourning and outrage of others. The most helpful action for me has been the tonglen meditation that I learned about last month. It continues to move me away from stress and into sadness.
What small acts do you count as compassionate in your life?