Supporting Others Doesn’t Have to Come at a Personal Cost

(Photo above by Ketut Subiyanto / Pexels)

With the rise of self-care centered language, a genuine conversation has surfaced around how focusing only on the self can create unintentional (or intentional) harm to others. Some wonder, “Is Therapy-Speak Making Us Selfish?” In Bustle, Rebecca Fishbein writes:

Beyond boundary-setting and inflexibility, the proliferation of therapy speak has also inspired some people to assign labels like “toxic” and “narcissistic” to certain relationships or behaviors. Though toxic people and narcissists do exist, these armchair diagnoses don’t always accurately capture every dynamic, and being on the receiving end of this language can be destabilizing when it’s misplaced.

Rebecca Fishbein, Bustle

Fishbein goes on to write that we are using “therapy-speak” to isolate ourselves, leading to an increased sense of loneliness. Of course boundary setting and checking in with ourselves is important, especially when it’s at the suggestion of a mental health professional.  But Buddhism teaches that we can respect our lives while at the same time respecting others. As Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda writes:

From the Buddhist perspective, it is impossible to build personal happiness on the sufferings of others.

- Daisaku Ikeda

Why is this? Buddhism teaches the concept of “dependent origination,” which essentially communicates the interconnectedness of all life. Everything functions to support and be supported by others.

This is why when we take action to support others, naturally our own sense of well-being and connectedness increases. It’s been repeatedly documented that volunteerism has depression-lowering effects and can even stimulate the same effect on the brain as coming into a large sum of money.

For Buddhists, respecting and valuing other people isn’t just a nice slogan. It’s based on this understanding of how life functions. Namely, to appreciate and wish for the happiness of another person will increase our ability to experience happiness.

And as Buddhists, we do our best to respect each person, even those we may not like at first. Buddhism also teaches that working together with people who we find disagreeable or get on our nerves, can lead to rich self-growth. That’s why instead of writing others off, we lean in and use our despair as fuel to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo about our situation.

Ikeda speaks with an SGI member in Peru about the mindset we should have when chanting:

We should therefore go ahead and chant about our desires, our problems, and our aspirations, just as they are. … The state of our life force determines everything: our health, courage, wisdom, joy, motivation to improve our lives, as well as self-discipline. Chanting itself is the source that enables us to tap our life force without end. Thus, those who base themselves on chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo are never deadlocked.

The New Human Revolution, vol. 11, revised edition, p. 106

Buddhism teaches that people around us are in our lives for a reason—to help us grow, to support us, to give us an opportunity to call forth our compassion and courage. Even difficult people can teach us profound lessons about ourselves. This is why we should treasure those around us because our relationships go deeper than the surface.

There are many stories from the SGI Buddhists who have experienced this firsthand. We’d like to share a few that have deeply moved us.

Buddhism, therapy and how people actually change

Learning How to Stand Up for Myself

On Setting Boundaries and True Self-Care

Healing family rifts when you don’t share beliefs

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