The Strength to Be Compassionate
September 18, 2012 by
Categories: Relationships

In previous posts, I have mentioned Karen Armstrong’s book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. In it, she discusses the importance of compassion. She suggests that, while everyone has the intrinsic ability to be compassionate, we must work hard to expand our capacity for it.

While reading, I have been trying to pay attention to my own level of compassion. When does it come easy to me? When do I find it most difficult? What things lead to my own close-mindedness?

As expected, you can imagine that I find it easy to be compassionate toward loved ones. My husband, dear friends, respected colleagues – I have a lot of compassion for each of these people. I know that compassion is more difficult when I am stressed.  This week is Finals Week, and I have been swamped by papers, projects, and exams. When I am tired and grumpy, compassion for anyone is incredibly difficult.

What happens to compassion for the people who are explicitly rude? That have hurt you? That have seen your pain and vulnerability, and acted in ways to make it worse? With these people, I see my compassion disappear in a mist that just will not solidify.

I shared my thoughts with a close friend, who suggested indifference. She explained that, with people who have hurt you or have hurt the ones you love, it is appropriate not to waste the energy on being compassionate towards them. In other words, don’t be hateful in return but no need to go out of your way to be nice.

I just cannot get on board with this idea.

I think these people need your compassion even more. I have many examples of when I have righteously spouted off how people have wronged those dear to me. And I am incredibly thankful to the friends who have helped me see beyond the hate and meanness to that person’s own pain.

If I were in that person’s shoes with their same history, would I be acting any differently? Hopefully, but probably not.

I recognize the value of indifference with people who have caused you great harm. When a person is in the healing process, there is only so much we can expect them to do. For this reason, it should be reserved only for the special situations. But my concern lies in what occurs if everyone adopts indifference. Indifference let’s you off the hook. It takes away the responsibility to be compassionate.

And that is a dangerous thing.

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