Compassion may be defined as the capacity to be attentive to the experience of others, to wish the best for others, and to sense what will truly serve others. – Joan Halifax
What does compassionate mean? Compassion means “suffer with”. Are you really suffering with people?
Would you describe yourself as a compassionate human being? However, are you really compassionate or are you simply behaving unconsciously and projecting your own culture and values on other people? Are you thinking of how the current you would feel in the same situation? Or are you honestly trying to put yourself in other people’s shoes and understand how they might feel?
Sometimes, misplaced compassion just serves to create even more separation and discrimination between people. Can you imagine if for the rest of your life, every single person you came into contact with, were staring at you with pity and so-called compassion when you are not asking for anything? How would you feel about it? Yet, it is how many people behave in reality.
Compassion means “suffer with”. However, many people are not “suffering with” simply because there is no suffering involved. They are only imagining in their mind that other people are suffering. They are unable to put themselves in other’s people shoes. They simply imagine how they personally believe they would feel if they were in the same situation.
They project their social conditioning, their personal story, their culture and their expectations on others and act with “compassion” when other people’s situation doesn’t match their subjective model of happiness. “I won’t be happy in your situation, so you are probably not happy. I’m going to have compassion. I’m going to suffer with you”.
However, is the person receiving your compassion really asking for anything? Are you really helping that person?
Let me share with you three situations where being compassionate might not make much sense.
When meeting a child with intellectual disabilities
When meeting a child with intellectual disability some people look at him with pity as if he/she were totally miserable.
In reality, the child might very well be happier than they are. They try to have compassion for the “poor” child when there might no be need for compassion.
It is true that the child might not be able to get married, or might die young, but what you are doing is only projecting your own expectation on him. You want to have a long and happy life, get married, have children and finally enjoy retirement. That child won’t have that chance but it might not be him/her concern, but only yours!
In being “compassionate” how are you helping him right now. Are you making his life better? That’s the question you should ask yourself.
When meeting people with physical disabilities.
Often, when meeting with people with some physical disabilities, people feel the need to be overly nice or to give them some kind of special treatments. Is it really the best thing to do?
Which one do you think a handicapped person would prefer?
- To be reminded everyday by so called “compassionate” people that they are different and to be looked at as if they were having a miserable existence.
- To be treated as a normal human being (which is what they are and think themselves to be!)
Imagine for a while that you were born with no arms. Would you appreciate having everyone looking at you with so-called compassion or pity, seeing in their eyes how they feel sorry for your “terrible” existence? Yet, it is what most people do all the time. Would you be happy to have people pitying you for your entire life while you aren’t asking for anything?
Does your behavior help a disabled person to grow and feel accepted? Does it empower him/her?
Being physically handicapped is just a subjective label we put on a human being. People with physical disability are not fundamentally any different from you or me.
We should have enough awareness to make a conscious choice to behave with them in the same way we would with a “normal” person. We should act the same way and talk the same way and should be authentic instead of acting in an awkward way. My guess is that it would be much appreciated.
No one should be deprived of the opportunity to enjoy authentic and sincere human interactions!
When traveling to Third World countries
Many people imagine that people in Third World countries are miserable and unhappy. Yet, I can give examples of people with absolutely nothing that are happier than most people in developed countries. When I went to Cambodia I didn’t see miserable and unhappy people. It is true that I’m not in their shoes. I have no way to tell whether they are happy or not and they might very well be unhappy. However, I would guard myself from analyzing other cultures from a self-centered perspective.
Most people are projecting their social conditioning on other people. They want people to live life their way. They have preconceived ideas about what happiness or success is and when other people are not following those ideas they feel like it is their mission to intervene and do something about it.
They don’t realize the power of the brain and how it can adapt to any situation. They also don’t realize how they’ve been entirely conditioned by the society they are living in. They don’t understand that if they were themselves born in a different country, they would feel and act totally differently.
Being compassionate is without a doubt, an important component of human relationships and I don’t deny it. I just want to underline that in some cases, when compassion is misused, it creates an artificial separation between “normal” persons and “miserable” persons who might be then, deprived of their fundamental right to enjoy authentic human interactions.
How about you? How compassionate are you?
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