Compassion: the Great Mediator
The Stories We Tell Ourselves
BY: Troy Murphy | June 2015
The personal journey of BECOMING never ends. The environment pounds upon the hard texture of our character, the harsh or tender self-regard softens the iron of the soul for tempering. We become something, the years twist and bend the soul, whether we direct the becoming or not. But when we mindfully attend to becoming, we influence the form, becoming closer to the ideal –the person we intend to be. Many naturally just become, accepting what their biological genes, family learning and society dictate. We, however, can gain freedom from these strict dictates of nature and nurture, loosening the chains of the trajectories. But escaping bondage to natural formation, we must purposely attend and oppose some automatic processes.
We are not simple. Our personalities are dynamic—a multitude of traits combine and interact, creating character. An ingredient lost in the stew of personality, a character trait of the greats, is compassion. Compassion serves as a great mediator, balancing character traits, calming selfishness, and connecting the self with the universe. Giving attention to our role, a small piece of a larger whole, greatly blesses our life.
A byproduct of compassion is kindness; but kindness is not compassion. Much kindness is self-serving, underlying selfish goals motivate seemingly kind behaviors. Social circumstances impel kind acts. We serve, looking for praise, lapping up acknowledgement and acceptance. Compassion often is praised; but praise doesn’t motivate the compassion. Kindness motivated by compassion is given out of concern for others well-being. A compassionate person considers others when seeking personal gain. Compassion transforms interactions, viewing the world beyond the ever present “I”. Compassion doesn’t require self-sacrificing martyrs because compassion values the self; decisions evaluate costs and benefits to all parties (self included). Compassion tames (not eliminating) the ego’s driving need to be right, accepted, and powerful.
Another component of compassion is empathy. Again we can experience empathy without compassion. Some accurately discern others feelings—mirror neurons project outside emotions into our souls. While we may not originate an emotion, we can recognize and feel the emotions brewing underneath the surface of others. Sociopaths master the art of emotional discernment but lack the empathy to feel. The sickest minds recognize other’s emotional experience with complete apathy. The middle ground feels but rejects. Compassion feels and accepts. Difficult emotions received from others are hated. Compassion allows for sadness, seeing someone sad projects onto the compassionate person; but instead of justifying, blaming or seeking escape from the discomfort, compassion accepts—you feel sad, I will stand by you in your sadness. A compassionate person feels the pain, knowing the pain exist outside the self. There is no driving need to change or manipulate the feelings of others to regain peace within ourselves.
Let me explain: When we see someone experiencing pain, our empathy—mirror neurons—vicariously experiences some of the pain. When we see the toddler trip and skin his knee, we feel sorrow. The discomfort drives us to action. When appropriate, we may help the toddler up and treat his wounds. But deeper hurts need more than a band-aide. Many relationships lack compassion. A partner returns home frustrated from a busy day in the office. Their frustration is projected and felt by the family. The kindling is in place for combustion. Instead of accepting the discomfort, we feel it and respond with frustration. When a partner is off kilter, instead of compassionately accepting their sadness, anger, or frustration, we respond as if the feeling was our own.
When we struggle processing our own disappointments and frustrations, receiving the discomforts from others becomes a momentous task. We want to solve the problem and erase the emotion. Guys are notorious for this. Many men struggle with emotions so receiving wives’ emotions becomes an issue of divide. When a partner’s problem is complex, we may revert to unhealthy alternatives. Many seek relief by blaming the sufferer.
A sociopath doesn’t need separation; the pain of others—although recognized—doesn’t cause personal discomfort. They have no need to blame because they simply don’t care.
True compassion replaces blaming judgments with concern. We feel the pain of drug addiction and homelessness without condemning the poor decisions preceding the consequences. Compassion offers support without condoning decisions. Compassion sees kindness, service and forgiveness not as something earned but a gift to relieve pain.
Compassion isn’t purchased in a store. We don’t suddenly possess compassion filling our lack with plenty. Character traits exist in all of us. Our surroundings coax or suppress expressions. We all possess a degree of compassion. Most people experience feelings of empathy—feeling sorrow for the pains of others. The seeds of compassion spring from these feelings. The skills to effectively respond, however, develop through practice.
Human behavior is conflicted. We constantly battle with internal opposing forces, driven to satisfy the self, often we ignore others. We fall short of perfect compassion, reverting to selfishness—that’s okay. Growth is a life time endeavor. We recognize, realistically evaluate, digging deep into the soul rooting out misdirected justifications, and then gently correct.
With wisdom, we gain a keener sense of compassionate reactions; we challenge bias and judgmental escapes.