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.


8 thoughts on “Compassion — Don’t Be An Idiot

  1. Andrea

    Hi Penny. This excellent post really resonated with me. So many times I’ve seen examples where people genuinely believe they are helping, probably if asked would say they are showing compassion, but when you examine the deed and words, actually it’s really all about making them feel better in some way and isn’t necessarily what the person on the receiving end needs or even wants. It’s not to say their intention is not good, just not being aware of the true motivation takes away their intent. Of course I have been guilty of this in times past, but I’d like to think I don’t do this so much any more. My natural inclination is to help someone who is in distress if I can, but the nature of the help has changed. If it’s not empowering to the other person then I take another look at my motivation for the help.
    I use EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) and one of the things I love about this technique is that it can empower the person to take control of their feelings, beliefs and so their life for themselves, rather than have someone else do it for them. This is the sort of compassion and help I want to offer others if they come to me; something that empowers them, because this is the sort of help I would like myself if I ask for guidance from anyone. Great post! Blessings, Andrea

    1. Penny McDaniel Post author

      Hi Andrea!

      I’m glad this resonated with you. We all have a natural inclination to help; no one wants to see anyone suffer. Our compassion is challenged on a daily basis, and it’s important to step back and ask ourselves, “Will this help or hurt the other person?” We really have to look at the situation as a whole. Like you said, if it’s not empowering to the other person, then we need to take another look at our motivation to help.

      I think using EFT is very empowering as it allows the other person to take control. It is calming, quieting, effective, and it’s very easy to do.

      Thank you for your wisdom and insight. Always appreciated!

  2. ruchira

    I agree with your thoughts, Penny.

    Empathy can only arise from within…n number of lectures or sharing of wisdom will only enlighten a person but to kick start this journey needs to come from within.

    good post 🙂
    happy woman’s day, friend!
    ruchira recently posted…Live it up!My Profile

    1. Penny McDaniel Post author

      Hi Ruchira!

      Happy Woman’s Day to you, too, my friend!

      Thanks for commenting.


  3. anonymous

    I think its hard for anyone that we love suffer but when this behavior happens over and over…its gets harder & harder to help that person. …. my cousin has a sister & who had to love her enough to allow the drugs to over come her…she loves her but doesn’t like what the drugs turn her into. So sadly she had to STOP helping her sister…. n now she is just waiting for the inevitable. …n its sad….but her sister had to let go….its sad..
    now my cousin just prayer for her….

    1. Penny McDaniel Post author


      Yes, it is painful to watch someone make unhealthy choices for themselves. And watching him or her hit bottom is not a pretty sight to see, but that’s what needs to happen for a turnaround to begin. No one wants to see anyone suffer. But we have to use wisdom in exercising compassion because we don’t want to be enablers.

      Thank you for your comments.


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