Reflecting on Virtues — and Including Vulnerabilities


  • Recollecting virtues is a classic contemplation~
  • Reflecting on virtues builds confidence ~ 
  • Naming others’ virtues can build relationships ~
  • Including vulnerability builds trust ~

Reflecting on Virtues and Vulnerabilities with Kindness:

~The safety of kind, honest, reflection~

I was walking with a good Dharma friend earlier this week, and really appreciated how attuned he was to the virtues, the good qualities, of our common friends. There is personal and relational wisdom in the beautiful way he spoke – it reminded me of the power of reflecting on virtues. Reflecting on our own and others’ virtues is often taught as a preparatory practice for the practice of Metta. These virtues can include kind words, natural gifts, acts of generosity, even positive intentions.

There’s also a power and wisdom of including kind and clear seeing of our own and others’ vulnerabilities as well. Another spiritual friend of mine, one of my Clinical Pastoral Educators, taught me the value of being an honest, kind mirror. To only reflect another’s strengths, without acknowledging the vulnerabilities they share—or the inadvertent effects of their actions – it can be a kind of dishonesty. If I don’t show up with honesty and sensitivity, it can edit the realness out of the relationship.

This is an advanced practice of Wise speech. It requires both kindness and discernment– is how I’m showing up motivated from kindness? Is it truthful, useful, and timely? The reward of well-timed, considered, holistic reflection can be true emotional and spiritual intimacy.

Conversely, to include a sense of openness or appropriate vulnerability when I’m speaking with people, for example, who have very different views than mine, can soften polarizing dynamics and invite deeper self-reflection and honesty to emerge. This is a very different way of showing up than needing to prove that I’m right. I experienced the benefits of this a few years ago when participating in an academic panel with a number of other scholars. One presenter was well-known for his strident, provocative – even vitriolic – arguments. All of us presented on the same topic, and, as it happened, I went after him. Rather than scoring debate points, my presentation was open to a number of points of view on the topic. I offered each perspective with a kindly attitude, acknowledging the possibility of sincere intentions in each the different possibility.

To my surprise, after the panel, the argumentative panelist turned to me, his eyes glowing with kindness and appreciation. He thanked me for bringing nuance into the panel. He began to shift his tone, and the nature of the group conversation changed. This was a teaching for me: if I’m able to stay open-minded, and hold an intention of kindness towards intentions or emotions underpinning opinions, a sense of kindness, shared humanity, can soften tensions or conflict.

In a way, acknowledging sincerity, or emotional importance, is not unlike mirroring someone’s virtues. It is an acknowledgment that, just like me, others need to feel safe and heard.

This is also deeply true in our own internal worlds. Dropping underneath the surface behavior, the surface chatter of the mind, and touching the emotions beneath thoughts or views with Metta often reveals deep, human-wide, wish for happiness. To meet, honor, all of who we are within can expand our capacity to cultivate what’s wholesome in ourselves and others.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.