By David Jones
Compassion isn’t merely something you should have, it’s something you should do.
Compassion is best when it’s used. But these days I find myself repeating lyrics from a song by The Echoing Green called Empath:
“Tell me where have we come
When our compassion’s out of fashion?”
Compassion is a two-step process: recognize the suffering of others, and then be moved to do something to help bring them relief. With today’s online environment, that second part is becoming “out of fashion” for many. And we can find ourselves struggling with keeping our compassion intact.
With that in mind, here are some things we might be doing to erode and exhaust our innate compassion.
1. Intentionally take in social media poison.
Would you intentionally enter a room full of virus-infected people without any need to do so, taking the masks and face shields off and touching your face the whole time? That’s what happens when we intentionally wade into posts and comments awash with virulent arguments, impotent anger which will only serve to infect us. Each time we intentionally click a headline or a post that made us angry or upset before we even clicked on it, we’re eroding our compassion.
2. Hold onto unrealistic expectations.
Perhaps I get upset with posts or comments from strangers, friends, or loved ones which offend or anger me. I can choose to confront them or to ignore these landmines, but most importantly we must remember that they can’t be expected to agree with us. The sooner we remember that they should have the freedom to hold views we don’t like, the better we protect our compassion for them.
3. Allow anger to drive.
It’s like an elder of mine said once in a public talk about lust: maybe you can’t prevent the bird from landing on your head, but you can prevent it from building a nest there. Anger is a valid emotion to experience authentically. But it’s a lousy driver when it comes to our lives. Reactive emotions, once we give them control, wreck compassion.
4. Get low on rest.
Rest is vital. Not just the physical act, but the mental and emotional acts too. The negativity around us leads to an embattled mind. Living life constantly under siege may be necessary, but so is a little R&R. Even during a war soldiers get a little time rotated out of the battles. Compassion can fail from exhaustion and outrage fatigue.
5. Stay in a bubble.
Being in a bubble means that we share an environment to which other folks inside it contribute. If everyone in that bubble is angry, that’s all we’re breathing in. Some folks try to broaden their views by getting outside their bubble and listening in on “the other side.” But being in a bubble full of anger or meanness is damaging to compassion whether the bubble is ours or someone else’s. There are healthier ways to broaden one’s horizons.
6. Confuse provocation with helping.
Picking fights isn’t compassionate, no matter how errant someone’s view or opinion is. Challenging folks on their stance isn’t worth it if it only makes us angry and only makes them angrier and more obstinate. Compassion seeks healing, not marks in a Win column. There are better ways forward than ideological fistfights.
7. Fall prey to judgmentalism.
Judging views may be accurate but it rarely changes minds. If telling someone that their view is inappropriate or unacceptable, and there’s really no chance that they’re going to change—despite your water-tight logical arguments—then what compassion has been served?
8. Confuse compassion with approval.
You don’t have to agree or like with what someone says, thinks, or does to show them compassion. In fact, hopefully our compassion doesn’t line up neatly with only what and who we like.
9. Assume it’s our job or obligation to change how others think or feel.
It’s absolutely not. We might think that someone’s suffering comes from beliefs and views they hold, when really those beliefs and views are symptoms of deeper causes of suffering. Besides, no one changes until they’re ready, and angrily demanding that they change rarely helps.
10. Focus too much on what’s wrong with people and the world.
It’s important to see what’s wrong around us and work to improve matters if and when we can. But if all our time is spent consumed by the negative, we lose our way over time. If compassion is light, we don’t want it to become darkness. Once we become consumed with suffering, it’s very difficult to provide compassion to anyone, even ourselves.
I’ve had to work hard on some of these areas myself, so let me tell you that they can be an absolute bear.
Compassion for those we don’t like or agree with is tough, but that’s why it’s so valuable and important. Folks who are filled with outrage are suffering from deep fears and frustrations. We need to meet them where they are if we’re going to help.
Knowing that, can’t we identify with them even if they express it in ways we don’t approve of? Of course, if we want to help them we need to help ourselves. Then we can provide support to others who are struggling to tread water right now without sinking beneath the waves ourselves.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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