Imagine yourself lying in a small rowboat on a calm lake, enjoying the gentle rocking of waves. When all of a sudden another boat bumps into your boat, startling you with a loud bang and a sudden jolt. Initially you’re angry — someone else deliberately bumped into your boat and interrupted your quiet moment. What an ass! However, when you sit up and look at the boat, you notice it’s empty. The wind and current you were enjoying a moment ago pushed this other boat into yours. Yet now you’ve lost concentration and your tranquility along with it.
Your discomfort is a result of two metaphorical arrows being shot at you. The first arrow was the initial surprise and shock of another boat running into you. The wind and current shot this arrow at you. However, the second arrow was the anger that took away your calm state of mind. You shot the second arrow at yourself.
The first arrow could not be avoided — you cannot control the other boat. However, the second arrow could have been avoided. If you were not so quick to assign blame and hence become angry, you could have continued to enjoy your serenity even after the initial disruption.
I expect this hypothetical story sounds familiar. We commonly invent scenarios in our heads before we know all the facts. We make assumptions about other people and we let those assumptions anger us, which creates a false distance between us and others.
Compassion breaks down assumptions about people, and hence lessens anger and its control over our mood. Through practicing compassion we can avoid shooting ourselves with a second arrow. Without shooting a second arrow we’ll be nicer to both friends and strangers, and we’ll be happier, too. Try not to shoot the second arrow.