Compassion: Is there anything more important?
Is there anything more important than compassion?
The simple answer to this question is likely yes. But for the life of me, I cannot think what.
Few values are more important, in my view, than compassion.
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Compassion, or the genuine concern for the plight of others, is important because we are all products of our circumstances.
None of us are 100 percent responsible for our successes or failures, or for our good deeds and bad. To me, compassion is a sign of caring, of respect and sharing the human condition.
To be compassionate is to be kind, supportive and to show others the respect you would like shown to you.
Research suggests that compassion has a number of other benefits - including improved health and wellbeing, greater common identity, a propensity to act in the best interests of all, a reduction in suffering and greater happiness. Yes, that is right, in addition to helping those you are being compassionate toward, it also benefits the one being compassionate.
Of course, it is much easier to talk about compassion than be truly compassionate. It is even harder to be ‘profoundly compassionate’, as is my goal.
Most of us demonstrate compassion when it comes to those we love. We are however, less inclined to be compassionate towards those we don’t know. We tend to show a great deal more compassion in relation to the plight of our own children than other people's children. Sad, but true.
Most of us are more compassionate toward people we relate to more than we are to people we don’t. Australians demonstrated a justifiably high degree of compassion towards the English and French after recent terrorist attacks, but much less apparent compassion toward Turkey when it had far more devastating experiences. Australians have a firmer connection with the UK and France.
To read more about compassion and how to practise it, a self-help book may be the way to go.
Most of us are more compassionate when an issue does not affect us. Australians demonstrated a very high level of compassion for the refugees in Europe after the young child washed up onto the beach in Italy, but a much lower level of compassion toward the plight of the refugees Australia has imprisoned on Manus Island and Nauru. Refugees coming to Australia are seen as less deserving of compassion.
Most of us are more compassionate when the person involved is someone we like or agree with. I am much more compassionate toward refugees and understanding of the circumstances that brought them to where they are, than I am towards Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton, and the hideous life experiences that would have been necessary to make them the haters they are today.
My value, one of the five articulated in my first in this series, is profound compassion’ which implies feeling and demonstrating compassion where ever it is called for - not just when it is someone I love, relate to, does not impact on me, or someone I agree with. Profound compassion also involves self-compassion, an essential component of self-actualisation.
I am pretty good at feeling and demonstrating compassion toward people, irrespective of my love for them and whether or not I relate to them. I feel I have almost mastered compassion towards people regardless of love or relatability. I certainly care no more or less about terrorism in Britain than any other country, including Australia.
I would hope to have made more progress than I have in terms of other forms of compassion. While I do have compassion for all refugees and believe that those on Manu Island should be allowed to live in Australia, I do struggle with being compassionate toward people who have impacted me badly. I still have a tendency to be unforgiving and less compassionate toward people who have hurt me, despite recognising that they are no less deserving of compassion.
I am not at all good at demonstrating compassion for those I view as bad people, such as Tony Abbott, Peter Dutton, Eric Abetz and Kevin Andrews. It is not so much that I disagree with then, as indeed I do with many of their colleagues, to whom I am open to demonstrating a great deal of compassion. I lack compassion for these four men because of what i see a a complete absence of moral substance – ignoring the reality that they deserve compassion as much as anyone.
Finally, I have failed entirely in terms of self-compassion, but that is a story for another time.
For me, profound compassion is an important value. It is also an aspirational value. I am not there yet. I will, however, continue to work toward it and hope to get there one day.
Do they not say that recognising a problem is the first step in the process of solving it? If that is so, I may have taken my first step.