Where Does Compassion Fit?

I really started to learn about compassion when I made a decision to love someone deemed by others to be unworthy of that love. I started to understand the cost of compassion when I was judged on that decision.  When I was going to be loved on the basis of that decision.  Then I knew that compassion is easy when people are nice, animals are cute and cuddly, and when no one’s done anything that might harm us.

When others stand and literally spit at you and call you names, then you start to realise that sometimes compassion has a cost.  Yet I still want to be a human being who has compassion for my fellow beings.  It’s simply a harder battle.  It simply makes me be sure of what (and who) I believe in.

We talk of compassion as something that rolls off the tongue, but I’m starting to realise that those who practise it most pay a price when they choose to exercise it to those who the rest of the world deem unworthy.

“Anyone can slay a dragon …but try waking up every morning and loving the world all over again. That’s what takes a real hero.” 

― Brian Andreas

I thought I started to learn about compassion as a teen.  I don’t remember it being raised earlier, although I am sure it was implied.  When people hurt me, I was told to have compassion for them.  Usually that compassion came with the word ‘Christian‘ in front of it, although I have never understood why.  My experience is that when compassion is prefaced by religion then it sadly comes with conditions.  Some people are deemed unworthy of compassion simply because they choose to be different.  That just screams ‘wrong’ to me.  It did then, and it does even more so now.

But still, that’s what I was taught.  Put aside my own hurts and be compassionate towards the ones who had hurt me.  As a teen that was really hard, especially when I had been hurt badly.  It seemed to me that no one was being compassionate toward me.  My hurt didn’t matter and I learned from that, rightly or wrongly, that I didn’t matter.  I couldn’t understand people who loved me telling me in this way that I didn’t matter. Although they claimed that’s not what they were doing.

As I’ve grown I have distanced myself from the prefaced type of compassion.  It seemed false to me, although I hasten to add that there are some very loving and caring people in any community.  It just seemed inconsistent and uninterested in my needs or my beliefs.

Now I see compassion as something that all human beings should have for all other beings.  But as I’ve already suggested, it’s perhaps hard to be compassionate when you’ve been hurt.  That said, I don’t believe it’s impossible.

Last year I was hurt very badly by someone.  While I was still picking up the pieces, that person accused me of hypocrisy.  I was accused of writing in my blog about compassion, yet not showing it to the person who hurt me.  Did I laugh or did I cry?  I admit that accusation stopped me in my tracks, because I knew it was something I had blogged about and I needed to question my actions since.  For a while there, it was difficult to write at all.  I also knew that the person accusing me had hurt me bad yet I had done nothing to deserve it.

I eventually came to the conclusion, that I hadn’t been hypocritical.  The person who had hurt me was entitled as anyone to my compassion, but I was also entitled to theirs.  Is that confusing?  Hopefully not.  It came back to that issue of how to be compassionate when you’ve been hurt.

Actually it led to a realisation that I needed to be able to forgive their actions/words in order to have compassion.  It didn’t come immediately, because I still hurt like hell, but it has come since.  It didn’t fix the relationship (that won’t happen) but it gave me some peace, and actually, that was enough.

As human beings I think that we make judgements about who does, and doesn’t deserve compassion.  I’m not convinced that the judgement is mine to make.  Who am I to determine who deserves compassion?

The reason for this post comes from things I’ve seen, heard and read lately, on a number of different subjects.  Watching people determine that they have the right to destroy another person’s life rather than have compassion.  I’m not referring to anything specific because it’s there every day, anywhere we look.  Often that destruction occurs of people who are unknown to the destroyer.  They don’t even understand the effects of their actions.  They simply don’t know who they choose to destroy.

I’m not perfect.  I make mistakes, and maybe at times I don’t have as much compassion as I should for someone.  We’re all human.  And when we’ve been hurt, compassion seems next to impossible.  It makes me so sad how easily, we as humans, can set out to destroy others, and then we congratulate ourselves on a job well done without stopping to think of the price, without stopping to think of the alternative… compassion.

So you think I’m crazy?  No.  Just thinking about another way of being.

It’s not my right to destroy another, but I believe it is my job to offer compassion where I can.  I was told recently that if I had compassion for a person who had hurt me, then I hadn’t suffered enough at their hands.  The person who said it hardly knew me and certainly didn’t know of what I had, or hadn’t suffered.  I disagreed strongly with that view for so many reasons.  But mostly I just don’t see it as my role to destroy others.

I know all too well how hard it is to be compassionate towards a person who has hurt me.  Being hurt doesn’t give me the right to hurt back, although I know that’s what comes naturally.  I think if someone has hurt me and I find it hard to give compassion to them, I need to back off  (and probably shut my mouth) rather than seek to destroy.  Eventually I will work to a point of peace again, and maybe then I can find that compassion.

In case you’re wondering, this is all me just wondering out loud.  I’m working out something for myself.  I’m not saying that it’s how it has to be for anyone else.  Although I think for me, it has to be.

“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” 

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring


13 thoughts on “Where Does Compassion Fit?

  1. By far, my favourite quote from Tolkien. It really struck a chord when I first read the books. I was 14.

    As you know, I struggle with judgment and compassion in terms of who does and doesn’t deserve them. That is, who deserves to be judged instead of being offered compassion or who deserve my compassion instead of my judgment. I’ve been told of righteous judgement. But it is still difficult. Both compassion and “righteous” judgement are deeply rooted in me.

    Strangely enough (and this is very strange indeed), I don’t have trouble feeling compassion for those who have hurt me. It is the darnedest thing.

    1. Now that is interesting. I’m wondering why but I guess it just is, rather than there being a specific reason? As for judgement that’s a really hard one and I’m sure it is influenced in us by the things we have been through, and perhaps how people told us to react to those things. That said, if someone tells me how to react I usually do the opposite. 🙂

  2. In my view, compassion is a mobilised passion for relieving the other’s suffering. Such energy doesn’t have to be kind; right action to relieve/remove the suffering can be quite a hard battle. We are not perfect beings, hence our compassion will also be imperfect, and not all encompassing. Perhaps we should only follow our heart, as the selector for our compassion … [just some crazy ideas …]

    1. Those are not crazy ideas Bert. Should I say I don’t think they are. Actually they make perfect sense and give me more food for thought. I suspect that how we each exercise compassion is quite unique, and I don’t think that is a bad thing. Thanks for your comment.

  3. John Richardson

    Having compassion doesn’t, in my mind, include being a door mat. Sometimes you have to fight before you can make up. And, compassion includes standing up for yourself as well, and we are all entitled to our feelings. As far as being a hypocrite, join the club because we all are. I can’t, and won’t, tell you how many times I felt my ears burning as they are turning bright red because I’ve suddenly realized that I’m being a hypocrite. We all need to try to be objective and see both sides of an issue. We always can’t do this because of our blind spots. We have to learn as we go. There is no other alternative. That is one of the reasons that forgiveness is so important. But, relationships can be broken like a pane of glass and sometimes they simply can’t be put back together especially when that relationship involved a large degree of trust. However, in most situations being a hypocrite is beside the point. We are entitled to make the decisions we want to make based on the evidence at hand. Even if it just feels good, and yes we get to live with the consequences of our decisions as well. There are few people that are so evil that they are beyond the pale of compassion. Do the best you can, listen to your gut and God Bless!

    1. Do you know what I love about your comments, John? You remind me that I’m human. I don’t know why I have it in my head that I am something else, but you are so right. One thing though that has me wondering. I know it wouldn’t be a popular thought but I’m not convinced that anyone is beyond the pale of compassion. And if there is, then what gives me the right to determine them so? I’m not saying people should be let off for the evil things they might do, simply that they are still human beings. Just wondering on that one. I’m not sure if I’ll ever find an answer.

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