Watching the news often catches me aware. I am horrified by the reported actions of others. I generally try to stay away from calling something evil, but lately I do not know how to describe some actions as other than reprehensible, and, yes, evil. I do not understand how some people self righteously hurt others. This premeditated behavior has me questioning how I can be compassion’s presence in a world gone awry.
As I hear the words of reaction pouring out of my mouth and toward the broadcaster flickering on the television screen, I recognize that I am judging instead of knowing that at the core of the violent behavior is suffering. I forget that I can judge the behavior as hurtful while compassionately holding the perpetrator accountable for their actions. In my angst and anger, my spark of compassion seems to extinguish.
After minutes, or hours, of angst, I feel it — that warm glow of my compassion spark resurrecting. In that moment I am suffused with the joy-filled knowing that my spark of compassion can never be extinguished. In times of great angst, it provides a pathway to the release of toxins from my body, mind, spirit, and heart. Toxicity levels lowered, compassion flows through my being re-igniting the fire in my heart. Now comes the hardest part — arguing with myself over just how to be compassion's presence to a perpetrator of suffering.
Acknowledging my own personal struggle opens me to being compassionate to both perpetrator and victim. It is easy to practice compassion to one whose suffering is visible — who has been directly harmed. For the perpetrator, I must find the grace to stop objectifying them and fashion my compassionate response.
Compassion is not possible unless I acknowledge the behavior is somewhere along the continuum from disturbing to downright reprehensible. Compassion asks that I do not justify or excuse the behavior; rather, that I seek ways to alleviate suffering that stems from its roots. That suffering is present in both the victim and the perpetrator.
My personal reflection propels me into my own dark side, my shadow. I recognize that I wouldn’t be so angry unless the behavior touched something in me. I search for what their behavior is pinging off of in me. I identify what judgments I make, how I defend my own beliefs, and how I objectify people based upon their behavior. And, then I find the deeply hidden, repulsive glimmer of who I do not want to be, but who I am. The behavior might not be the same, but the energy of the glimmer resonates with the actions of the other.
Before I am able to show compassion to the other, I have to acknowledge the roots of my own woundedness — of the suffering inside myself that unconsciously informs my reactions toward the one I would objectify. Through the practice of self-compassion I not only heal myself, but I become a font of strength. By owning my shadow, compassion is my response even when I struggle to judge or condemn another for their actions.
Compassion requires mindfulness. Unless we are aware of our judgments of others and defenses of our self, we are unable to be compassion’s presence in a polarized, increasingly violent world. With the stance of the objective observer, we are able to maintain a balanced compassion core while recognizing how the actions of another trigger us. Instead of thinking negative thoughts or saying hurtful words about the person who exhibits disturbing behavior, our initial thoughts are, “How can I alleviate the suffering that they spewed? And, how much the perpetrator, must suffer.” Those thoughts trigger compassion of the person not of their action.
Objective, we do not judge. We do not defend. Our energy is no longer held hostage by suppositions and assumptions. We are really free to notice what is happening. No matter how terrible, how evil, how bad the behavior is, the armor of our objectivity protects us from engaging in ways that exacerbate the other’s behavior. We do not become part of the escalation; the person’s behavior is their own.
Being compassionate in these circumstances never equals agreement. Because we refuse to enable, we may be judged as devoid of compassion. But, our compassion is present on the deepest levels. We hold space for the person to experience the breadth of their behavior — to learn the life lesson, no matter how difficult or painful, that is inherent in the bad behavior.
The compassion of “I love you enough” holds a person accountable for their actions. We trust that, with compassion, the perpetrator comes to know the ramifications of their behavior. Even if they do not, we do not allow our self to be consumed by the angry face of evil perpetrated.
The compassion of “I love you enough,” for me, is the most difficult form of compassion. I am required to be gentle and love unconditionally while not enabling another person’s hurtful behavior. Being compassion in this way is not easy, but it is our most deeply authentic practice of compassion.
Vanessa F. Hurst, ms, is a Mindful Coach, Compassion Consultant, Professional Speaker, and Author who weaves her inner wisdom into all she touches. Vanessa offers Neural Synchrony™ sessions to assist clients in navigating their life paths with intuition. Contact Vanessa @ email@example.com
Her books are A Constellation of Connections: Contemplative Relationships and Engaging Compassion Through Intent & Action.