I have been a stubborn fucker for a long time and in many ways still am. I have been raised around people who have not acquired the skill to make room for another persons opinion, feelings or anxieties without some sort of judgment. Putting it like this makes it sound very negative but the reality of it is, is that in many cases this lack of compassion is a result of wanting to do good. Judgement to many, feels like ‘helping’. Simply put, the other person does not understand the problem at hand so you show them how well you know everything about it.
Another byproduct of this mentality is the lack of understanding where the other persons reaction is coming from and therefor, instead of empathising with the other individual, we interpret their words or actions as attacks. I remember Thich Nhat Hanh saying he wants to help the authorities of Vietnam by taking away their fear of him. He says this when asked how he feels about being banished from the country for promoting peace. It is not that he holds a grudge or feels anger towards them. Rather he realises that they fear him or the consequences of letting him back into the country. He feels compassion towards their fear, not anger towards their reaction to it.
When I look around (both in real life as well as online), not many of us have been raised with compassion or true empathy. It is thereby not our fault that we fail to generate compassion or love towards those who are not showing any of that to us in any obvious way. Still, though it has not been taught, we are not victims of our upbringings or surroundings. In my case, I have amazing parents who love me to death and have done anything in their power to love me unconditionally and still do, but they have not acquired the skill to be compassionate.
This, to me is very confronting at this very moment. I have a very long road ahead when it comes to practicing compassion and empathy since my nature is to act out of anger and cynicism. Even towards those I love, but becoming a father has changed that tremendously. I have become more stable and capable of finding the why’s behind the various behaviours that I encounter.
Since the lockdown I haven’t really gotten into any discussions with my girlfriend and part of the reason is that I try to practice making room for the other persons belief without stepping away from my own. This tiny little realisation is profound because I believe many of us go into defence mode when our own beliefs are not shared by another individual. Of course, there is always that one person in the room who claims ‘they don’t care’ but this is not compassion nor understanding either. This is egocentrism and still implies that what you think is superior to the other persons thought.
It looks rather conflicting to say you can be right and know you are right, without compromising someone else’s opinion. But you can. A practical part to this is ‘not wanting to change the other person’. To make them do, how you do. The further away the person is to you, the easier you show compassion or understanding because it will not interfere much with your own beliefs or with your own life. That is the irony. To show true compassion to someone who is very dear to you and holds a decent amount of influence on your day to day life, is way harder. It is only when you see someone everyday that giving room to their beliefs that differ from your own, can form a true test of character.
My parents had a falling out today about something that was actually very sad and caused shock to my mother. The situation (without too many details) asked for my mother to hold hér mother even though our society still calls for distancing due to COVID-19. My dad, who is absolutely frightened of this virus, was only concerned with whether my mom kept her distance. To which the answer is no. The way he verbally reacted to this could easily be put as being a complete asshole. So naturally, that is what my mother reacted to.
This situation is hardly as black and white as it appears. To hold your mother after a traumatising event is a natural, loving thing to do right? Not quite, if the the alternative is to possibly infect her with a disease that could kill her easily. When my father reacts, he reacts to the safety element to this situation and has no concern for the loving part. Asshole? Not quite. What good is love, if it is likely to kill the one you love?
Eventually this whole thing escalated and now they are in a feud and I’m sort of in the middle trying to grasp what went wrong. And I figured it out. It is their lack of compassion. Not only my father’s lack of compassion though. It could easily be said that he should have acted differently but that would deny the whole point I am trying to make. Where my father fails to realise the severity of the situation to my mother, she fails to recognise the place where my father’s reaction is coming from. Which is fear. And fear is a burden to the person who suffers from it. Therefor you should sympathise with those who are scared, even if their fear causes them to do ‘injustice’ to you.
If compassion and empathy would have been developed strongly, they would have encountered each other differently. From love and understanding. And though they might still not approve of each other’s actions, they would not fight over it either because they would understand the ‘why’ behind it.
I take these situations as reminders that I still have a long way to go before I balanced out my asshole nature, but it is also a reminder that I am actively trying to change this part of my behaviour. Every negative feeling you hold onto, becomes a burden in the long run. There is not one case in the world in which holding on to negative feelings brought any good. They are by definition negative and useless. Anger, frustration and all these things are impulses but do not actually show is what is behind all of it. If you only experience the negative without trying to find the root of that feeling, you are destined to forever live without truly understanding your loved ones and thereby live a life without truly loving someone fully.