It happened again. I was telling some friends about the incident in which I was attacked for my presentation on compassion, and while I was doing so, another friend walked in and said the exact same thing. Compassion just enables people to be lazy, incompetent, unproductive members of society.
I am trying to be compassionate about why some people feel the need to attack compassion. I am going to assume it is because they have misconceptions about what compassion is. So I thought I would take this opportunity to clarify what it is not.
1. Judgmental responses are not compassionate. This one is obvious but still worth mentioning, since judgment is usually our automatic response. You are so lazy. There must be something seriously wrong with you for watching Netflix when you should be working on your paper.
Judgment is a motivation strategy that is shame-based. Sometimes it’s effective, but even when it works, it rarely makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something. It’s about time you did something! You only wasted the whole freaking day!
An example of a compassionate response would be: It is hard to motivate yourself to do something unpleasant. It’s hard for everyone. And it’s hard to write something knowing that someone else is going to evaluate it. No one likes to be criticized.
2. Compulsory positive thinking is not compassionate. Telling someone to look on the bright side, count your blessings, or think positive thoughts is not compassionate because it communicates the message that negative feelings are bad and should be avoided at all costs. When we are being compassionate, we accept all of our thoughts and feelings, positive and negative.
An example of a more compassionate response would be: It’s ok that you’re feeling sad. Everyone feels sad sometimes. At some point–maybe even later today–you will feel differently.
3. Comparison is not compassionate. Think of the less fortunate. The people in war-torn countries. The poor, hungry, and sick. What do you have to be unhappy about? These suggestions are well-intended and helpful for some people, but they, too, can convey the message that you have not suffered enough to deserve your feelings.
A more compassionate response would be: This may seem like a small thing, but it causes you pain. And I care about anything that causes you pain. I care about all of your feelings.
4. Self-indulgence is not compassionate. I have to thank Yvonne Spence for leaving this comment on my post Mental Illness Does Not Discriminate, because it hits the nail on the head. People who attack compassion believe that compassion gives people permission to avoid responsibility. Which it does not. You still have to write the paper. Experience pain. Strive to be a better person. But you can do so in a loving way.
I would argue that any advice that you give to someone can be made more effective by prefacing it with a compassionate response. And in my experience, validating someone’s feelings frees up the energy they were using for self-hatred and actually makes them more productive.