Stop Demanding Others. Start Cultivating Compassion.

Alex Chen
9 min readApr 1, 2024

“Ascending to Heaven is hard. Demanding others is even harder.”

— Chinese Idiom

Think about all the things that upset, annoy, or worry you. Chances are, a significant amount are related to other people. Ancient philosophers teach that suffering comes from desire, and one of the most stubborn desires we have is demanding others to be a certain way.

In other words, most of us have conditional love towards people: “If you behave the way I want you to behave, then I will treat you well; otherwise, I will be unhappy towards you.” Of course, people often don’t behave the way we want them to, which creates suffering for both sides. The key to more tranquility and happiness is not trying harder to change others, but rather in letting go of our demands and in cultivating compassion.

Icon Sources: 1, 2, 3

Letting go of demands doesn’t mean we become indifferent towards others; in fact, it is more effective at changing others. The core of “demands” is “what I want”, so cultivating compassion is about letting go of “what I want” and “how I feel”, which then gives us the mental space and energy to truly feel what other people need, what is truly best for them, and how to help them in a way that they would be receptive to.

Some people might think, “If I always think about benefiting others and not myself, then wouldn’t I lose out?” Actually, it’s very worthwhile to be compassionate. How?

  1. Compassion benefits oneself first
  2. Compassion truly benefits others
  3. Compassion benefits oneself again when others benefit

1: Compassion benefits oneself first

Everyone is working hard in life to simply be happy. Happiness is an emotional state. All emotions have energy, and when we feel high-energy emotions, our mind and body will feel comfortable and at ease. Conversely, low-energy emotions make us feel uncomfortable, tight, and stressed. Below is a chart from the book Becoming Supernatural by Dr. Joe Dispenza showing the energy levels of different emotions.

Source: Becoming Supernatural by Dr. Joe Dispenza

From this chart, we can see that survival emotions, such as pain, fear, and anger have lower energy, while elevated emotions, like love, appreciation, and freedom have higher energy. Notice that survival emotions are related to self-protection, meaning the person is highly focused on I and me. But elevated emotions like love (or compassion), appreciation, and freedom all come from dampening the focus on I.

Now, the big question is, how can we dampen our attachment to I? One way is to do loving-kindness meditation, where we think about someone that we have good wishes for, and then strengthen and broaden that feeling of compassion outwards towards more people.

But it’s not enough to just feel elevated during a meditation session; it’s more important to maintain that state and train ourselves outside of meditation in daily life.

Usually throughout the day, we habitually think about ourselves, making it hard to experience elevated emotions and easy to sink into survival emotions. One solution I learned from Venerable Jing Kong is to “think of benefiting others with every thought.” By doing so, we divert our habitual focus on the self towards benefiting others. If you think about it, this technique is quite ingenious. If we just tell ourselves “don’t think about myself, don’t think about myself”, it’s quite hard. But by focusing on benefiting others, we naturally forget I.

I think that’s what Gandhi meant when he said,

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

When we’ve forgotten ourselves in the joy of serving others, we’ve found our ideal state of being. For every percent we dampen our attachment towards I, we gain one percent of elevated emotions, such as joy, love, gratitude, and freedom, which then motivates us to keep cultivating. Thus, regardless of who the other person is and what they do, when we bring out feelings of compassion towards others, we benefit first.

2: Compassion truly benefits others

Sometimes, we want to help others, but we end up creating conflict and trouble. Why? Because our ego makes us overly focused on my views and my feelings, preventing us from truly understanding the views and feelings of the people we’re trying to help. That’s not compassion, that’s demanding others to behave the way we want them to behave. Put in harsher terms, that’s called “being a control freak”.

I don’t think anyone likes being called a control freak, so when we feel upset at others for not behaving the way we want them to, we can remind ourselves, “Stop being a control freak!

As mentioned before, compassionate people are focused on serving others, and they really put in the energy to understand others, to think about what would truly benefit them, and to persuade in a manner that the recipient would be responsive to. This great compassion might sound a little idealistic, but actually, we’ve probably all witnessed it: parents’ love for children approximates compassion. Regardless of how their children behave, parents are always thinking about how to help their children to be happy, healthy, and successful. And parents don’t just think for their children’s short-term but also long-term.

When our level of compassion is not very high yet, we can cultivate by consciously setting aside our selfish desires and thinking about what would truly benefit others in the long-term. As we practice more, compassion will become more natural.

Consider these examples:

  • Should I give the person a fish or teach them how to fish? Our ego might like the feeling of others needing us, but our compassionate self would rather they have self-sufficiency.
  • Should I give the other person whatever they want? Our ego might like pleasing others and being liked by others, but our compassionate self wouldn’t want them to become a spoiled brat. We should be willing to be the bad cop when necessary.
  • If someone makes a mistake, should we clean up the mistake for them, which might be quick and easy, or should we communicate and admonish them to correct their mistake? The answer is dependent on the complexities of the situation, but the ego would want to avoid trouble, while the compassionate self would be willing to go through trouble for the benefit of others.
  • If someone has a bad and harmful habit, should we be forceful in persuading them to change? Our ego would be a control freak, and it might even use the excuse “I’m doing it for your own good!”. Our compassionate self wouldn’t blame others for not listening or give up if they don’t listen, but instead really try to understand what the other person needs and persist in finding a way to admonish the person in a way that they would be responsive to.

All in all, if we have conflict when trying to help others, it’s likely that our desire to help is mixed with demands towards them to behave a certain way. When we let go of our my demands and my feelings, then we can truly benefit others, and of course, we benefit first from the feeling of compassion.

3: Compassion benefits oneself again when others benefit

To go back to the analogy of parents, parents are even happier for their children’s success than the children. Similarly, when we cultivate compassion, we view other people’s gains and losses as our own losses.

To bring out the intention of wanting others to succeed, I remind myself of a teaching from the book Liao Fan’s Four Lessons:

“The difference between exemplary people and common folk lies in their intentions. Exemplary people only hold intentions of love and respect. There are thousands of different types of people in the world, some close and some distant, some of high status and some low, some smart and others dull, some virtuous and others not. But nevertheless, they are my fellow mankind; we are all connected and in this together.”

(Original Text: 君子所以異於人者,以其存心也。君子所存之心,只是愛人敬人之心。蓋人有親疏貴賤,有智愚賢不肖;萬品不齊,皆吾同胞,皆吾一體。)

We can remember that everyone is just like me, doing their best to do what they think is right and what they think will bring happiness.

When we understand that and see that they are the same as us in essence, we naturally feel a sense of compassion and a desire to help them be happy and successful. When we put in effort to help others succeed, and they indeed benefit, of course we’d be delighted.

Furthermore, we are all grateful to the people who helped us, and we naturally want to return the favour in the future. Therefore, the benefit of compassion isn’t just the feeling of joy for others’ success, but also an investment in future aid from others. Of course, we don’t demand others to return the favour (that would be being a control freak, and people wouldn’t want to help control freaks); it’s just a natural karmic result.

My Experience

I’ve always considered myself to be a very reasonable and logical person, and I feel that I don’t have any unreasonable expectations towards others. However, I still get annoyed and upset at others, which means that I don’t truly understand others, which also means that I’m not truly reasonable. After all, how can I be reasonable towards others if I don’t truly understand them first? How can I be annoyed at others after I’ve truly understood them?

I realized that what I think are “reasonable expectations” are big traps for my peace of mind. For example

  • Why are you blaming me when you also have fault in this? You should acknowledge your own problems first. (This is overly focused on my feelings and demanding others to have high moral cultivation, which is quite unreasonable.)
  • Why did you go back on your word for no good reason? (“No good reason” is from my perspective, not theirs. Everyone has their own reasons for doing what they do.)
  • Why can’t you even be five minutes early? Is it really that hard? (This is my standard, not theirs. They don’t have any intention to be disrespectful.)
  • Why are you loafing when you have important responsibilities and work to do? (But in reality, they don’t want to loaf either. They’d much rather be productive, but they can’t. They just want to do something in the meantime and think about their work in the back of their mind.)

Once I let go of my perspective and my expectations, then I can bring out feelings of understanding and compassion towards others, and I feel much more peaceful and at ease.

Recently, I helped some classmates with some English assignments. They are not native English speakers like I am, so naturally, I have the ability to help them. I made a conscious decision to view their successes and failures as my own, and I hope they can all improve their confidence and English ability afterwards.

I know they are rather polite and don’t want to trouble me, so I took initiative to offer help. Then I paid attention to their response to see if they actually want my help or not. If they do, I will do my best to help; if not, then I won’t be pushy about it. Most of them were very grateful for my offer.

When correcting and explaining grammar mistakes for one classmate, she kept asking “But why? I still don’t understand? What’s wrong with my way?” I got annoyed and said, “Well I’m not an expert in grammar, but I can tell you that as a native English speaker, this is how I would say it.” She would then reluctantly say, “Ok fine.

Later, I realized that the problem isn’t her, it’s me. I had a subconscious demand for her to be able to understand my grammar corrections and to accept them. But it’s actually very commendable that she is asking about these grammar corrections rather than blindly accepting them, and it’s my problem for not being good enough at grammar to explain it to her in a way that she can understand. Another time, I said, “I’m not a grammar expert, so I don’t know how to explain it, but we can go search up the answer if you want.” In this way, I felt much more at peace and she was able to learn better.

Later, when my professor gave feedback saying that everyone’s English presentation had noticeable improvement from the past, I was even happier for my classmates than they were.

And when I inspected my classmates’ essays, I noticed their improvement, and again, I was even happier for them than they were. They were very thankful for my help and said they will definitely help me with Chinese assignments in the next course.


Happiness expert Gretchen Rubin said,

“Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree that a key — maybe the key — to a happy life is strong relationships.”

One of our subtle bad habits is demanding others to behave the way we want them to, which then makes others annoyed and want to avoid us. Thus, if we want happy relationships and a happy life, cultivating compassion is key, and we can do so in daily life by “thinking to benefit others with every thought”. In doing so, we benefit ourselves by experiencing more elevated emotions, we find ways to truly benefit others, and we benefit ourselves again in the future.

Originally published at on April 1, 2024.



Alex Chen

Passionate about self-cultivation, happiness, and sharing wisdom.