Today, the bloggers of 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion are posting about bullies and bullying. I believe in what these writers are trying to do. It’s something people have tried to do for ages. Prophets and religious leaders, politicians and activists, writers and other artists, even musicians like the Beatles, have all given it shot. They try to change the world with words and love. But when I thought about my childhood, I found that I have very little direct experience with bullying. Either I was surprisingly fortunate and not much of a target (which is hard to believe — I was a girl geek), or my flaky brain has kindly erased all memories of the bullies I have known (which seems much more likely).
I imagine many people will write about the lack of compassion bullies show, but I’ve been thinking that in order to help them, we have to start out by feeling compassion for the bullies themselves. The difficulty we face is clear: there is nothing harder than being compassionate and loving towards someone who has hurt you.
Recently, I’ve been helping someone who is sick and grieving. Occasionally, she has let a sharp word fly my way, and it’s no surprise. Chronic pain erodes patience. The longer it lasts, the more irritable we get. We lose the ability to think of others, and speak hard words without even realizing it. Even though I understand how enormous her challenges are right now, some of her barbed words have left their mark. The hurt I feel fuels a desire to hurt her in return. I’ve had to fight that desire and work instead to rebuild my compassion for her. I repeat to myself that she is sick, she is suffering, she is sad. There are good reasons for her bad behavior, and she would be sorry she caused me pain if she knew she had. My love for her helps me to overcome the hurt and regain my emotional balance so I can be of service instead of just walking away.
How much harder to find compassion for someone we feel no love for at all. Many bullies are enemies from the first look. The hurts pile up, the desire for revenge grows, and there’s no love to help balance things out, to remind us to stop planning our revenge or lashing out in return. But hating the haters doesn’t working. It only makes things worse.
I met a passionate woman recently who did something that really challenged me. When faced with a man who ranted against her beliefs with acidic, hateful words, she put a gentle hand on his shoulder and said, “It’s not easy to love everyone.” With her very action, she accepted his hate and began loving him, even though she didn’t agree with his vehement point of view. She planted the idea of compassion in him as well.
It’s not easy to love everyone, but doesn’t compassion require us to do just that? Most religions have their version of “love thy neighbor as thyself”, challenging us to love everyone — those around us, and also, just as significantly, ourselves. Compassion requires an open heart, full of love and kindness, not cold and full of hate.
The Beatles knew what they were talking about. Love really is all you need.
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