Once a Bitch, Always a Bitch?

According to a new study even the nastiest of people we can learn compassion and stop being mean-spirited, judgmental jerks

Wish your boss would stop being such a mega-bitch and show some compassion already? Turns out, even that tyrannical witch, for whom you’ve lost all hope, can be trained to be a nicer person –- in theory, anyway.

A new study in the journal Psychological Science shows that people can learn how to have real, kindhearted feelings for the crazy homeless person sleeping in front of their stoop or even for the infuriating lady they call their mom. All they have to do is practice something called compassion meditation.

Instead of chanting om, participants envision someone who is suffering and then practice wishing to have their suffering relieved. Sounds easy enough, except that you don’t usually direct these compassionate feelings towards people with whom you’re on good terms. Nope, that would be too easy. To really boost your empathy, you need to meditate on the people who drive you insane. I guess mean people get their pick of the litter, since everyone drives them nuts.

To stay the course, you repeat phrases such as, “May you be free from suffering. May you be happy. May you live with ease.” I speak from experience when I say this mantra is pretty crucial. Left to your own devices, your thoughts could quickly devolve into, oh, I don’t know, visions of accidentally spilling acid on your ex-boyfriend’s face.

Much in the way working out builds muscle, compassion meditation can make the brain more understanding and sympathetic, say researchers.

While that is all fine and good, here’s the thing: I doubt it’s going to turn real-life Betty Drapers into Mother Teresas, because the people who need compassion training the most are probably the least likely to do it (I’m looking at you, “Twit and Run” driver Emma Way). In that sense, at least from a “make the world better” standpoint, it kind of renders the whole practice pointless.

Then again, maybe that’s exactly the point. We can’t change others’ attitudes towards us or toward the world. But, for our own sake and sanity, compassion meditation can help us feel more at peace with those who get under our skin -- like our parents or our frenemies or those annoying coworkers. So even though your bitch of a boss might not become more compassionate any time soon, at least you can learn to pity, I mean forgive, her by attempting to wish her well.

Besides, on a selfish note, if your boss were to free herself from her suffering hellhole of misery, she would probably become a nicer person, which would free you from her misery, too.

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