Category Archives: compassion

Compassion — Don’t Be An Idiot

I have a relative who has made some unwise choices in his life.  Those choices are now catching up to him.  The family has suggested changes and offered help that could improve his circumstances.  He says he understands and accepts, but it’s not long before he lapses into his old patterns of behavior, mystifying and hurting those who have offered to help him.

But what they call helping, I call enabling.

What they call compassion, I call idiocy.

When it comes to compassion, we are either wise or we are idiots.

Compassion is desiring that beings be free from suffering. As philosopher Ken Wilber says, “Real compassion includes wisdom and so it makes judgments of care and concern; it says some things are good, and some things are bad, and I will choose to act only on those things that are informed by wisdom and care.”  Wise compassion is skillful compassion; it sees the whole situation and aims to bring release from suffering.

However, idiot compassion, an expression coined by Buddhist meditation master Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, involves giving people what they want because we can’t bear to see them suffering.  We do it to avoid causing offense.  Rather than face any conflict, we give in to their pleas and allow them to walk all over us.  This is not compassion at all.  It’s an escape from our feeling of I can’t bear to see them suffering.  We do it for ourselves, not for them, and this kind of “compassion” ends up causing more pain to ourselves and others.  Such “compassion” stems from not having the courage to say no.

For compassion to be effective, we need to first examine our actions.  Are our actions going to be of real help and value?  Or will they actually be supporting an already unhealthy situation?  Staying in an abusive relationship is not compassion.  The compassionate thing to do is to leave, no matter how difficult.  The dynamic must change if healing is to occur.

We also need to be aware of the ego’s need to take credit for doing good deeds.  The ego has an appetite for looking good in front of others. It wants to be liked. It wants to be everyone’s friend. It fears being unpopular. This occurs when we give for our own benefit, not for the recipient’s. Our giving has less to do with what the other person needs, but plenty to do with trying to escape our own feelings of inadequacy.

It takes courage and wisdom to be a truly compassionate person.

As far as my relative goes, he needs to hit that kind of bottom where the people he loves stop giving him the wrong kind of compassion.  There will be pain, no doubt, but causing pain is not the same as causing harm. It’s the kind of pain that is needed in order for healing to occur. Boundaries will need to be set. Support structures will need to put in place.  It’s the kind of compassion that is a wake-up call for all involved.


Ugly 101

traffic light You really discover a lot about yourself when you are behind the wheel in certain traffic situations, especially when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere.

The other day I got stuck in traffic when I was running errands.

The light had turned green, and the person in front of me didn’t move.  I waited.  And waited.  Finally, I honked the horn.  Nothing. I honked again.  Nothing.  Other horns began honking.  Nothing.  I felt my blood pressure and a wild impatience rising.

“What the…? C’mon!” I yelled aloud, throwing my hands into the air.

So I laid on the horn, hoping to get the person’s attention.  I got it alright, when he flipped the one-finger salute, screaming into his rear view mirror at me before speeding off…just as the light was ready to change to red.  I was stuck.


I had just landed myself in Ugly 101.  And I needed to get out fast.

Why did I get so annoyed and impatient?  That was so uncharacteristic of me.  It was the “spiritune” moment to get back to practicing compassion.  So, rather than seethe about what had happened, I took a few deep breaths to get my Zen on.

The current moment is the only thing that really exists.  And in the presence of now, the future and the past are irrelevant.  Why was I in such a hurry?  There was no need to be in a hurry, but for some reason I created that need and fell into its trap.  I took a few more deep breaths to center myself and to release the panicky misperception that I needed to get someplace else fast.

I chose to remain in the moment and breathed my way back to sanity, without the need to rush, push, or panic.  Instead of cursing the driver ahead of me, I sent blessings his way and quietly thanked him for reminding me that the only place I need to be is here, now.  I would inevitably get to my destination.

It’s not traffic or being stuck at a light that makes us lose perspective; it’s our own doing, when we get caught up in petty thoughts and feelings, thinking that someone has wronged us in some way.  What this driver did was nothing personal; I happened to take it personally when I had no real reason to take it so.

Lesson learned. Again.

With that, I heard a honk behind me because the light had turned green.  I turned around, and instead of getting ugly with the driver, I blew a kiss and gave the thumbs up sign before driving off.