“If we don’t call people out on bad, rude, unkind behavior, then I feel like we have no standards left at all. Sure, everyone is fighting a battle of some sort, but if there is no expectation from others – from their community or society as a whole – why would they make any effort at all to over come those struggles?”
This question, in some form or another, arises nearly every time the ideas of compassion are discussed on this blog…for good reason. No one wants to get walked all over, treated as a doormat, or dehumanized. Unfortunately, sometimes when this concept of compassion and understanding and patience is advocated, it sounds like you’re telling someone to do exactly that—get treated as a doormat, or just play nice and it will all go away.
But that isn’t what I’m advocating at all. Practicing Compassion has nothing to do with whether or not you respond, but everything to do with HOW you respond.
Because it’s fresh on my mind, I’ll use MLK as an example. In those days (and all the days preceding the civil rights movement, and many days after it), you had an entire section of our society being treated poorly (that word is an understatement). People had been walked all over, treated as doormats, and dehumanized for far too long. To not respond at all to such treatment would likely create the scenario the commenter was concerned about – if individuals or society aren’t going to be called out on their bad behavior, why would they change?
MLK stood up to this oppression, along with many, many others. Though it would be impossible to draw a clear line, it is safe to say that some people who stood up to the oppression did so with a “heart at war“. Others who stood up did so with a “heart at peace“. Both kinds of people absolutely influenced change. The question is which kind of heart do you want to have, and which path is more likely to have longer lasting positive impacts for all sides?
For MLK, Compassion seemed to be the rule of the day. I’m sure there were weak moments, I’m sure there were mistakes. But Compassion was the guiding principle underlying his movement’s stand.
Here is the commitment card you needed to sign in order to join the movement:
I hereby pledge myself—my person and body—to the nonviolent movement. Therefore I will keep the following ten commandments:
1. Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
2. Remember always that the non—violent movement seeks justice and reconciliation — not victory.
3. Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
4. Pray daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.
5. Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all men might be free.
6. Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
7. Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
8. Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
10.Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain on a demonstration.
I sign this pledge, having seriously considered what I do and with the determination and will to persevere.
Touching on a similar principle behind Compassion that I shared last week (that the offender is often suffering themselves), MLK actually told the people he was marching with that their march wasn’t to liberate themselves, but to liberate those who despised and hated and abused them. He said they were not the ones being oppressed, it was those with racist attitudes who were oppressed by their hatred. He believed the best way to deliver them from their hatred was through love, peaceful demonstration, and non-violence.
It seems he was suggesting that if their hearts were full of love and compassion for their fellow man, then no matter what the social circumstances, they were the ones that were free. And even if he wasn’t suggesting that, I will.
Having this “heart at peace” and being full of compassion and understanding did not stop MLK and those who led the non-violent movement from standing up for something. It did not mean they sat idly by, nor did it mean they accepted what was unacceptable. It did not mean that reasonable boundaries didn’t need to be set and agreed upon for appropriate behavior respecting the rights of all people, or that people shouldn’t be called out when those boundaries were crossed. It did not mean he shouldn’t seek justice in the highest courts of the land, or that he shouldn’t persuade the highest office in the land of his cause.
Again, Compassion has little to do with whether or not you respond, but has everything to do with HOW your respond. It means cultivating your own “heart at peace” so that you can see things through the eyes of compassion and clarity, instead of being blinded by your own ego-based hatred, fears, resentment, and judgements.
Such a commitment to act with this kind of clarity was at the heart of MLK’s non-violent movement, and Gandhi’s. It is also at the heart of Jesus’s teachings, and Buddha’s, and all the great religions of the world.
It should similarly inform the core of our own little individual worlds, the ones that take place within the confines of your heart, mind, and soul.
I think if you read the rest of the comments to that post, you’ll see the power of that principle in action in the lives of everyday (and simultaneously amazing) people. You’ll read about people who stood up for themselves and for what they believed was acceptable behavior in a marriage. It’s quite possible that in the beginning, they did so with a heart at war, with resentment, hatred, fighting, blaming, and belittling. But judging by their comments, they sooner or later learned to approach it differently, and it led to their individual freedom…even if it didn’t change the other person. Some might have even experienced that liberation before the divorce, while everything was breaking down. I’m one of those people. The liberation came because I learned to Love, while also setting reasonable boundaries.
And I’m simply telling you it IS possible, and that it is deeply rewarding.
P.S. I borrowed the terms “heart at peace” and “heart at war” from a book I read recently that I LOVED. It is called the “The Anatomy of Peace” by the Arbinger Institute. It’s rare that you see a book on Amazon with hundreds of ratings and a 5 star average. There is a good reason why.
I’d love to hear more stories from you readers, when you’ve either done this yourself, or seen it done, and what the result was. Who else has discovered the power of HOW you respond? You never know, sharing your story may positively influence another at just the right moment in their lives.