Compassion can be scary.

images-1If I allow myself to feel the pain of everyone on earth… or everyone I meet… or even everyone I live or work with… how will I survive?

It’s a good question. Compassion comes from empathy, the ability to ‘feel with’ the experience of others. However, it does not mean taking over their feelings – that’s just another kind of violence. How tempting is it to think, or even say: “I know exactly how you feel, it happened to me too”? It may possibly be empathy, but not compassion.

How about sympathy? It’s another case of empathy gone wrong: an outlet for my wish to feel superior to you. “Oh you poor thing, I feel so sorry for you.”

‘Taking over” and sympathizing are both ways of keeping distance. Compassion keeps no distance, while still marking the boundary between you and me. It allows me to ‘feel with’ you, as an equal, without taking on your suffering (and thus doubling it). Walking this tightrope is the way to true compassion. This is what I have come to believe.

Why should we bother, if it’s so difficult?

Perhaps compassion is a prerequisite for our survival as a civilization? Imagine a world where a teacher can feel compassion for every pupil, without burning out. Where a business leader can feel compassion for all beings, and reflect that in his/her decisions. Where every politician can ‘afford’ to feel and express compassion not only for constituents but also for fellow politicians – rivals as well as comrades. Where every doctor can meet each patient with compassion.

Scary or not: would it not be a better world?


6 Replies to “Compassion can be scary.”

  1. I feel the omission of consumer and investor from your imaginings may be telling…

    Motivated reasoning and homeostasis are the enemy of the linguistic parsing shared in these thoughts. Do you know why these two social roles did not get included in that paragraph?

    I’ve begun to use the term Anthropiety to capture the shadow side of the dynamic I hear you writing about; that links ‘charity’ (in an earlier etymological meaning in English, –> ~1600, with compassion, as you are using the term. That physical charity is now, linguistically, the emotion of love, indicates a shift in the social psyche that undermines the point I hear you making; that may be behind the omission I perceive.

    Primary to the sordid dynamics that drive the linguistic mud regarding empathy is society’s decision to have fiat currencies coined in debt. As long as ‘wealth’ can be had through the enslaving dynamics of indebting, charity is integral to “taking over” and sympathizing; compassion is systemically precluded. This observation is not intended to negate the point of your thoughts, rather sharpen it; “bring it home to roost” so to speak.

    Here in the US, our fiat currency is unconstitutional. Our sovereignty is forfeited to greed. Freedom is an Orwellian doublespeak for enslavement. And the US dollar is the global reserve currency; functionally the ‘Ring of Sauron’. Until, linguistically, freedom is relinked to the right to be responsible (ibid for the ownership of property/wealth), neither freedom nor responsibility are possible; near term human extinction is assured.

    I’ve been meaning to comment here since our thread on twitter referenced this post. I’ve kept a tab open since then so as not to forget. This AM included time to do so. =)

  2. Good to hear from you, Greg. Yes I’m sure the economic system plays a big part in our perceived capacity for compassion. It’s one of the reasons I follow with such interest the experiments with local currencies, LETS systems etc. Remembering the dictum of Buckminster Fuller that you don’t overturn a powerful system by fighting it, but rather by eating it up from within – introducing innovations that gradually make the system irrelevant.

  3. I am not clear how one makes greed, as an iteration of fear, irrelevant. The structures of our brain that we experience as these feelings are evolutionarily our oldest; the most integral to who and what we are. Compassion, within the systemic injustice of debt-based fiat currencies, is, functionally, little more than Anthropiety.

    I looked at some earlier pictures of you prior to my earlier post, perhaps in conjunction with our thread of tweets, and I got to wondering if I had seen you long ago in a video about an emmission reduction simulation game played. This was, perhaps, about 15 years ago. It seems to me the sponsoring organization was from your part of the world and a younger you might have been a facilitator.

    Regardless, the lesson of the game was that cooperation and going all out with compassion as a motivator was the only way to acheive the targets science dictated. Since the US has trashed that approach to responding to climate change, and mentored a competitive self-interest approach, our hubris and science ignoring propaganda is a bad joke we will discover we’re the butt of. With systemic avarice for an economic meme little else was a probable outcome. To dream for compassion is just that…and Bucky’s wisdom has been rendered, thanks to game theory calculations, inapplicable.

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