<image is of a single blue flower resting on blue gravel. I’m not sure why I’m using this image, but somehow it seemed fitting>
I want to talk a little bit about compassion. I’m not entirely sure that it is within the scope of my blog (though Nee assures me it is), but it’s been on my mind a lot so I’m writing about it anyway.
A few things got the thoughts started. One was when a commenter called me compassionate a few posts ago (thank you, kind commenter! I very much appreciate it!) and another was some stuff on facebook that I am reluctant to elaborate on because it entirely involved other people. Basically, it was people talking about how they feel compassion, and I had thoughts that took a while to make it to words, as they do.
I think that compassion is important. I also think that compassion is work, and is frequently not at all an easy thing to do.
The type of compassion that most people seem to talk about is compassion for people who are hurting in some way. Typically the hurt is obvious and acute, and yeah, we feel for those people. It’s important to feel for people who are hurting. However, this is the easiest kind of compassion there is. I want to talk a little bit about more difficult compassion.
Compassion gets much more difficult, and it not often talked about, when it’s for a person who’s being annoying. Compassion is very difficult to give to a person who hurts us.
One I personally find incredibly tricky is compassion for a person who is hurting in a similar way that I am hurting, but distinctly less than me. For instance, Nee and I both struggle with loneliness. However, he has more people in his life than I do. Sometimes, when I am really feeling the pain of my isolation and he’s just come home from socializing without me, it can be really hard for me to feel compassion for the fact the he is lonely too.
Compassion means always assuming the best in people. It means that if someone does something that you find hurtful, ALWAYS assume that it was unintentional, and work from that baseline.
Compassion means believing that people have good reasons to do or believe whatever it is they do or believe, even if we don’t understand it or disagree with it or find it offensive. Even if they are demonstratively wrong, even if they are hurting people, compassion means trying to find the root of what is going on to address it. Compassion means approaching people with love and a belief that they are *not bad people,* whatever else is going on.
Personally, I find this profoundly difficult when it comes to issues I am passionate about, or I am personally hurt by their actions. Sometimes I just can’t do it. In fact, while I definitely think compassion is important, I also think that compassion means understanding that sometimes people need to take care of themselves first. The person who is personally hurt by racism should not have to stop and try to experience compassion for their oppressors.
Now, as much as I would like to be a compassionate person, sometimes I just can’t. Frequently, I can only manage compassion when I take a step or two back, so I am not so personally impacted by what is going on.
I do think that compassion for those are are hurting comes first, and is far more important than compassion for those who cause hurt. However, that does not mean that the latter is not important at all or should simply be forgotten. I think that changing the world for the better is going to involve lots of compassion, including the kind of compassion that is difficult or painful.
Finally, I want to point you towards an example of the kind of compassion I am talking about, that put it much better than I ever could. It is compassion without concession – it demonstrates that showing compassion does not mean giving up, or conceding defeat, or saying that the other side is correct. It is, simply, showing compassion.
You may have read it already: The Distress of the Privileged. The author uses the movie Pleasantville as an example, to show the distress of one who is privileged – in this case, the character George Parker. He enjoyed a privileged position in his society, and found himself lost and confused when suddenly the people around him started to reject society and his role in it.
“George deserves compassion, but his until-recently-ideal housewife Betty Parker (and the other characters assigned subservient roles) deserves justice. George and Betty’s claims are not equivalent, and if we treat them the same way, we do Betty an injustice.”
Sometimes I think that people fear that showing compassion means losing the opportunity for justice, but I do not believe that is the case. Compassion is still important, and can even be a tool for justice. And no, it isn’t always easy.