Compassion for me is tightly bound to ethics as I use it as a guidepost for my actions and behaviors. But today, instead of waxing poetic about compassion and its necessity in our lives, I want to discuss the dark side of compassion. The things no one really likes to talk about, things we all know deep in our hearts, but are often afraid to admit (even to ourselves).
All humans have the potential for evil – even you, even me, even that nice old lady down the block.
This is one of the most difficult things for us to accept about ourselves. We work really hard to remain unaware of our faults. We are ashamed of our anger. We deny our darker side (the shadow as C.G. Jung called it). Thing is, as long as we are denying parts of ourselves, as long as there are parts we are ashamed of, things we are trying to hide, we are dangerous beings. To ourselves and others. But mostly to ourselves.
I remember going into intensive group therapy (that lasted 3 months for 5 hours a day, 5 days a week) and being terrified of what I will discover. I can look back on that now and laugh, but I was genuinely freaked out.
The night before I began therapy, I had a dream of a crow, and some time towards the end of therapy I drew a dark crow-like figure that my therapist interpreted as the shadow. MY shadow. So I decided to spend some time with the aspects of myself that I was afraid of, the aspects I had tucked away, hidden even from myself, aspects I was ashamed of or in denial about for one reason or another. I allowed myself full expression of all my aspects. And I just observed.
This “experiment” lasted about a year, although I don’t know if I can honestly declare it over. I am now a lot more open with myself (and others). The most important thing I learned was that the fear I felt was greater than the thing I feared. I am not dangerous. But I WAS a ticking time bomb. If I had stayed fragmented, I was a danger to myself and possibly others.
We all do things every day that cause harm (knowingly or not).
The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the products we use, even the computer or handheld device you are reading this on can potentially cause harm to someone. For many of these things, someone must be exploited for you to be able to have this thing – animals for food, people and children to produce clothing, electronics, and many everyday use items you never even think about.
Do you really want to buy that (insert item here) knowing that someone is going to be exploited on your behalf? Although it is nearly impossible for a single person to right every wrong, it is possible to choose the path of least harm. Buy most clothing used or from ethical companies (with transparency in their practices), choose to not eat animal products, choose to not buy things tested on animals, buy electronics only when it is necessary. You don’t need that new iphone or whatever latest gadget everyone is lusting after.
Do these solutions fix all the world’s problems?
No. They are just the tip of the iceberg, but at least you know that you are making conscious decisions to not participate.
And this is where the most important aspect of compassion enters.
The most important thing to remember is to have compassion toward ourselves.
We are not perfect. Being human means being flawed. We all make mistakes. Even the people we greatly admire and raise on pedestals made mistakes.
We all choose to ignore some of the bad we are doing. This doesn’t make us evil, just human.
Be compassionate towards yourself. Forgive yourself often. Let yourself make mistakes. When you learn to do it for yourself, you will be a champion of compassion for others. It is difficult to help others when you hate yourself. I know from experience.
Have compassion for yourself, love yourself, and you will become a beacon of light for others.
My dare to you today is that you practice small acts of compassion towards yourself.
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