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.