On Compassion

Part of the ADF Dedicant’s program is essays on the discussion of virtues.  This is one of my essays.

“Compassion is not religious business, it is human business, it is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability, it is essential for human survival.” (Dalai Lama)( 1)

Soldier's CompassionCompassion is defined as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it” (2).  In other descriptions, “Compassion is a virtue — one in which the emotional capacities of empathy and sympathy (for the suffering of others) are regarded as a part of love itself, and a cornerstone of greater social interconnection and humanism — foundational to the highest principles in philosophy, society, and personhood.” (3)

To me, compassion comes from love, and thus from strength.  Some people consider compassion a weakness: something that can prevent you from making the hard decision or the tough choice.   But it’s not.  Compassion is what helps us to bring our humanity to conflict, to those hard decisions.  It allows us to see our fellows and our opponents as humans, to understand if there is a better resolution to a conflict, and to honor the sacrifice (ours or theirs) if one is necessarily.

Without compassion, it’s too easy to view the people on the other side of any conflict as objects, as things to be used, or to be converted.  But they’re just people.  People with their own needs, and wants, and desire for survival.  Understanding who they are, understanding their situation, and understanding their desires helps to bring out a better resolution for everyone.

Compassion does not mean doing anything to make people around you feel better.  Compassion sometimes means not helping them, so they will learn to stand on their feet.  Compassion also, sometimes, means understanding what help should be provided.  Doing a task for someone won’t help them learn to do that task better, but maybe they just need to not have to worry about it for a while.  Only through love and compassion can you really understand what is best.

There is also the other aspect to compassion.  In order to have compassion for those around us, it is necessary for us to have compassion for ourselves.  Each of us is human, none of us are perfect, and each of us have love to share.

One of the hardest things to do is to love ourselves.  That inner critical voice is harsh and hard to ignore.  While there is some benefit in recognizing that inner critic, we must also remember that sometimes we’re not going to be perfect … and that’s okay.  If our body isn’t perfect, our speech not exact, our skills not as grand as we desire, it’s okay.  It’s okay to forget sometimes, and to hurt, and be in pain.  Sometimes we just need to let ourselves experience, to feel, to understand that sometimes life isn’t great.  And to know, that we still love ourselves, we still understand, and we can get through it and feel better.

Compassion is also allowing ourselves to feel, to experience, and to be not perfect.

We say that we love others even with their faults … the harder part is, can we love ourselves, even with our faults?

A lack of compassion will tear us apart.  Through compassion, we can build something together.

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