Compassionate Resistance?

A long-time colleague and friend responded to a recent blog on compassion. He had been thinking about “the corrosive effects of incivility,” and wondered about the role of compassion. He wrote, “I don’t think compassion is enough these days. Gandhi and MLK Jr. were compassionate, to be sure. But it was their focus and smart, firm resistance that carried the day…or most of it. I believe we need now to plant two feet firmly in resistance (to the debasing of values and policies we hold dear) and check our compassion every now and then. Those without compassion laugh at those who have it and are guided by it. Those with compassion need to be careful of its downside—the possibility of its use to dismiss or weaken. What do you think?”

I agree compassion is not enough. We also need to enlist the help of all the practices listed in last week’s blog.

In addition, I believe compassion is the foundation for effectively interacting with others and for effective resistance. (“Resistance” is the attempt to prevent something by action or argument; the ability not to be affected by something, especially adversely.)

Compassion is not weakness, giving in, or giving up. It can provide a grounded strength that enables us to disagree and stand our ground without engendering reactivity and additional resistance from those with whom we disagree. The key to finding common ground is to work hard to understand and empathize with people who have different beliefs and positions than we do. They came to their beliefs and positions for reasons that make sense to them.  When we understand these reasons we can usually empathize, if not feel compassion.

There is a significant difference in of the role of compassion in interactions at work or in our communities than in interactions in political arenas. With colleagues and neighbors, planting two feet firmly in compassion, we can avoid feeding the fires of “we/they” thinking and combativeness among people.

Unfortunately, the structures (e.g., political parties) and procedures (e.g., win/lose voting) of political bodies prime decision makers and their constituents to focus almost exclusively on winning, often at any cost. The current political climate in our country lets us know just how high these costs can be. This “win at all costs” stance prevents us from working together to craft better, smarter solutions to the issues that face us locally and nationally.

My friend is correct in thinking that in political arenas compassion can be perceived as weakness. This is sad and not helpful. Until compassion can play a role in our political process—among decision makers and for stakeholders affected by their decisions—we are trapped in either/or, win/lose thinking at a time when compassionate both/and, win/win thinking is sorely needed.

What do you think? How might compassion play a useful role in our political processes?

Mary’s book “Talk Matters! Saving the World One Word at a Time” is now available. ReClick here to purchase it.

1 thought on “Compassionate Resistance?

  1. Mary,
    To respond fully to your questions requires more than a comment box, but it is a welcomed place to start. I just discovered you by doing a search on ‘resistance’ and appreciate that you put out such posts.

    I would approach this a little differently, as we are in changing times and new opportunities are opening for another way of seeing and living.

    Rather than getting into a discussion about compassion playing a role in our political processes, I feel to focus on what the few individuals who are attracted can do by shifting their whole paradigm.

    I feel that no real or lasting solutions will ever come from the political process, and that efforts to inspire politicians to be more compassionate amount to wasted energy.

    My thoughts are more fully developed in a series of posts on the Whole Human site. The last three of ‘ELECTRIC FREQUENCY JOURNAL’ are especially relevant even if it would not appear so by the title. It is a unique approach and may seem strange but if you give it a choice we may be able to engage in conversation.

    For me, compassion is a quality and a frequency. What is needed is to develop frequency awareness and a greater understanding of humankind’s relationship with the Whole.

    May I have permission to use the image on this page in a Whole Human post? If you don’t own the rights, any information would be valued.

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