Complex vs. Simple Compassion

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” Dalai Lama

Compassion is the key to everything, but as I had to learn the hard way, it doesn’t always feel good. I always thought of compassion as being nice to people, seeing their side, walking a mile in their shoes, but at a certain moment in my life I realized it might not mean “being nice” at all.

Being nice is easy. You do the nice thing and walk away feeling good about life the universe and everything — and ones self. But then…

My alcoholic brother.

“You think you’re being compassionate by taking care of him, paying his bills, listening to him on the phone, all of that, but it’s taking a huge toll on you, or why would you be here?”

My therapist.

“But I have to help my brother.”

“Who said? Are you helping him? Is he better because you pay his electric bills? Maybe you’re hurting him.”

I had a whole week to think about that — or hike and run about that.

I got my therapist’s point, and I even saw what I had to do, mechanically. I even saw that my “help” was just helping him NOT recover from alcoholism, and that if I really wanted to help him, I had to stop “helping” him. After that, it wasn’t just me mechanically not “helping” him any more. I had to deal with myself, and that has taken decades. I’ve thought a lot about compassion. Ultimately, compassion is self-care.

We live in a historical moment where compassion is simple. It doesn’t demand therapy or making the excruciating decision to let one’s glorious, talented, beloved little brother go wherever he has to go on his own. It just means we wear a mask when we’re around others to inhibit the spray of germs that issues from our mouths when we speak or breathe. Just this could keep businesses open, could keep people out of hospitals and could save lives. Heroic. But NOoooo. It’s political. Wearing masks inhibits our “freedom” and tramples our rights.

We call people heroes when they pull someone from a burning car wreck, save a child from drowning in a pool, give a kidney to a stranger, but here we are needing government officials to enforce behavior that would make all of us heroes if we just had the compassion to strap a stupid fucking piece of cloth across our nose and mouth.

Here are some smart words and thoughts from a kid.

32 thoughts on “Complex vs. Simple Compassion

  1. Sometimes “tough love” is called for and sometimes it will cause harm. It is often difficult to see when it is appropriate. Doubly so when you are emotionally invested in someone.

  2. Damn straight. I hear you. A man and woman were shopping together in a store I was in yesterday (briefly) that had a sign “masks required”- and they were technically wearing masks…pulled down under their chins. Their expressions were defiant (my interpretation when I looked them straight in the eye). I wanted to scream, but I just left. Hopefully in time.

    • I don’t mind at all. That ‘s an awesome little girl. The kids up the alley get it and they’re 7 and 8. They’ve learned how to hug Miss Martha safely and to wear masks.

  3. I needed this. I’ve been placed in a situation I believe is unsafe. It was maddening. Compassion is indeed everything you mentioned. Coincidentally, I have a situation with my older sister and my niece (her daughter) that my parents have raised the last 25 years. Back to my situation just today–I’m immune-compromised; yet, because we are running a business that the owners think MUST MAKE MONEY over the health of their team or others, I’ve been exposed and it makes me angry. I don’t know why everything has to be political. I came home after lunch and just needed to read a bit to calm my spirit. My mom has cancelled Thanksgiving because we ALL CARE FOR EACH OTHER. I’m not flying to see my kids and grandkids BECAUSE I LOVE THEM. We wouldn’t have had this incident occur here, I believe, had we all been taking care of one another and being wise by wearing a mask around others. I’m just having one of those days. But never-the-less, I’m going to lean on faith and just try to take it one day at a time. I bought a house Martha. It’s a tiny one. They accepted my offer on Oct. 30th. I close on the 2nd of Dec. I’m trying to sell my R.V. There are so many things I’m navigating, like the rest of the world, and I’m going to do my part by establishing roots to be near family and plan adventures in my Subie with my pup and I when the time comes. Like a grown-up should do, I’ll do my part. Thank you for being here. Stay safe and healthy. Love, Karla and Finn💚🐶

    • Oh Karla, I know. I’m having a really blue day because of all this. It just doesn’t make sense to me. The situation with the virus is so awful and yet so simple that it’s absurd. Our governor has explained, “If you just wear masks and distance socially our businesses wouldn’t have to close or limit customers” but people don’t seem to get that, like that’s an opinion and he’s trying to control them. They call him Hitler etc. And the election? Biden is raising funds to help with his transition, money that’s already there that we taxpayers have already paid all because Trump won’t concede and the GSA official won’t certify the election. I don’t understand any of this and I realize it’s because it’s fundamentally incomprehensible. 😦

      I’m glad you bought a house and small is OK. My house is small. Sometimes it seems pretty big then I have company and it shrinks somehow.

      I think the universe has always rested on the shoulders of well-intentioned people who choose to do the right thing by each others. One thing about religion that’s always made me sad is that ANYONE had to throw down commandments for our behavior or ever say, “Love thy neighbor.” That humans have always been “us vs. them” is just the saddest thing. I’ve always felt sorry for God. ❤ Hang in there, Karla. Love to you and Finn from us.

      • Thank you Martha. Everything you said is how I’m feeling. I’m excited to have new space and a new schedule of time to write and just “be” for a bit. Finn and me will love it. I’ve downsized 4 times to get into RV and had eventually wanted my own space, sticks and bricks. The political atmosphere is not making camping any fun anymore. The “us vs. them” is awful indeed. That’s why I don’t like religion. I’m so thankful to God and so thankful to know you. ❣️

  4. Like you, Martha, I’m tired of seeing other people’s point of view, particularly when they are spouting some conspiracy theory. Sometimes I choose to keep my mouth shut (ha, ha, ha) and other times I am not so polite. What do they care anyway? Good on you for stating the obvious. ❤

  5. Amen! I wish there were a vaccine for stupid. I sewed a new mask for myself today. I wanted to have another one that I could put in the rotation since I wash them after each use. Now I just need to figure out the whole Christmas themed masks… I will not pay $12.99 for one with ugly reindeer on it. Compassion is a tough concept for many of us. You are correct that true compassion must by necessity actually help those in need and not cause us to be harmed in turn. It is a balancing act. Hope you are safe and well. We’ve entered what I call DEFCON Red – we are nearing capacity for the county’s hospitals, the COVID rate is increasing and has reached over 20%. And still people refuse to wear their masks. We need the vaccine yesterday (and the one for stupidity too)!

    • My neighbor has been making Christmas themed masks. I picked up some elastic for her last week in the town of Del Norte where there’s a fabric store. I called ahead. The woman asked if my friend was making masks for others and I said she was. The woman didn’t want to charge me the $1.70 for 6 yards of 1/8 inch elastic. Selfish and cruel seems to be one extreme in this bizarre reality we’re living in. Over-the-top kind and generous seems to be the other. A vaccine for stupid would help all of us.

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