This week’s blog is by Rebecca Eldridge, teacher at the CFM.
We practice idiot compassion when we know that a particular action is called for, but since that action will cause discomfort to ourselves or others, we choose to do something else instead. It’s the knockoff version of actual compassion. Actual compassion happens when we’re willing to hold our own pain and do what we know in our heart and mind is the “bigger kindness" even when it hurts. Idiot compassion may be easier to practice in the moment, but doing this ultimately strengthens our own selfishness, and can diminish the ability for clear seeing and the courage it takes to offer what is most beneficial.
My teacher says that practicing idiot compassion is similar to withholding medicine that we know a friend needs because we want to spare them the bitter taste of the medicine; yet instead, we feed them poison in the form of our niceties. We might consider anything that arises from idiot compassion as enabling. So a reminder: Mindfulness is often not a comfortable path, but it’s always an honest one.
Here are some questions I consider when I don’t feel up to the brave work of being truly compassionate, either to myself or others—
- Do I suspect that the person will lay a guilt trip on me if I don’t respond as they want, and am I willing to experience the pain of that?
- Might they talk about me behind my back, get angry, and so on? Maybe their reaction will be more subtle, pouting or bristling in some way. Can I handle this without getting brittle or dogmatic?
- If I say yes to something they’ve asked me to do, will I dread doing it because I should have said no?
- Am I avoiding responding as I think I ought because I’m afraid that the person won’t think I’m nice, great, kind, and so on?
- Can I trust that they can hold any sting that may come from our interaction, and perhaps even grow because of it? Can I hold the sting myself?
- If I could get through the guilt or anxiety that might come from offering what I feel is actually called for, would I feel lighter?
And then after a difficult interaction, I consider these questions to help me get clearer about my relationship with compassion—
- Do I feel I touched in on something heartfelt even if it was painful or the person reacted in a way that was hurtful?
- If I’ve agreed to fulfill a request, do I feel that it will ultimately open my heart instead of close it?
- Do I feel I’ve offered something more than a temporary fix to someone instead of simply avoiding disapproval or discomfort?
- Would I respond the same way again, even if I knew that it could turn out to be a lot of work, gain me disapproval, and may not have the outcome that I want?
These are questions I consider as I continue to learn about myself and how I experience compassion. What are some ways that you recognize when you’re acting compassionately, or not?
To read Rebecca’s other posts⏤
Sad-Joy: The (broken) Heart of Practice
6 Points of Mindful Speech
3 Reasons We Don’t Meditate
Looking Back, Moving Forward