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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6 thoughts on “The Key to Compassion: All You Need Is Love”
I think it’s easier to show compassion to bullies who are strangers, like online trolls or grumpy people at the grocery store, then it is to repeat offenders. I’ve been bullied all of my life by my older brother. As kids, he was vicious, cruel, and abusive. I spent most of my childhood afraid, in large part because of him. (trying to keep an incredibly long story short 🙂 ) As adults, he has apologized and expressed remorse, and so for years I have made many good-faith efforts to build a healthy relationship with him and make him a part of my life. But even though I’ve tried, I can’t trust him. And, remorseful or not, he still shows me no respect or courtesy, and I’ve witnessed some awful behavior from him towards his (now ex) wife, children, and our mother. Last year I hit the point where I realized I needed to show myself more love and compassion, and protect myself from him. I haven’t seen him in almost a year, and we only exchange pleasantries via short texts on our birthdays. I’m perfectly happy with this arrangement.
And so yes, I agree, we need to be compassionate and loving towards bullies and mean people because they’re obviously lacking something and unhappy for them to be acting that way. But there has to come a point where a person needs to protect them self from being hurt. As I continually tell my mother, it’s not selfish to want to be happy and feel safe.
Protecting ourselves from hurtful people is a choice we get to make as adults, something that we can rarely do as children. It’s our right and our duty to ourselves to make such a choice whenever we can. I don’t think it’s selfish at all. Taking care of ourselves is part of what we do as responsible adults. I’m sorry that you’ve had to make this choice with regards to a sibling, but admire you for taking such good care of yourself.
For me, the gift when dealing with a stranger is that their story is a complete unknown. When a crazy driver cuts me off, I can make up reasons to justify the behavior (anxious for a loved one; in the midst of a real emergency; the driver is sick and unaware), and that makes it easier to forgive. When I know the person better and think I already know the circumstances, the apparent reasons might not seem like enough to justify inconsiderate and hurtful behavior, especially since the someone is supposed to care about me in some way.
Although I didn’t say so, I was thinking about bullies we deal with repeatedly (the mean kid in school or the abusive boss) when I compared them to abusers closer to home. The hurt and wounded trust is compounded so horribly when it is repeated that my ability to turn the other cheek all but disappears with each additional event. The desire to strike back was strong when I was feeling hurt by my friend’s words and I expect it would be even stronger if I were dealing with consistent bullying from someone I didn’t care for already. I have the same issue you do with broken trust. My reaction (when I’m not dreaming up nasty things to say) is to withdraw when hurt, to hold back. And I do to some extent. That is how I protect myself from further hurt. But I will keep your advice in mind and make sure I am not putting myself in harm’s way for no good reason.
Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experience. The more I ponder compassion, the more I realize that this easy concept is extremely difficult to achieve. It’s a spiritual challenge that I will probably never master, but I hope to keep growing more compassionate as long as I live.
I do think love is very important, however, it’s easy to overlook other things. I always remember at the age of 17 (in 1987) watching a 20th anniversary documentary for the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. At the end of the documentary, the interviewer asked a few celebrities the question, “IS love all you need?” One respondent answered something to the effect of “no, you can’t have love without justice.” I’ve never forgotten that; I thought it was a very important point at the time (and still do).
My “love is all you need” assertion is simplistic, but I was thinking mostly in terms of the situation I described: to find forgiveness for someone who abuses me verbally or otherwise, I need to remember my love for them. Perhaps the title should have been: The First Step to Achieving Compassion…? Certainly, compassion and forgiveness are proving much more complicated to practice than they are to preach.
I’m intrigued by the idea that you can’t have love without justice, but I’m not sure I buy it. In fact, I’m tempted to turn the statement on its head and say you can’t have justice without love, only I think you can probably do that, too. Neither seems truly dependent on the other in my mind. However, I’m not much of a philosopher. Thinking about these topics is way outside of my normal box.
Thanks for sharing your experience and giving me something to think about.
My pleasure – thanks for a thought-provoking post. 🙂 It’s certainly a complex topic … I don’t have a background in philosophy (or religion) either, however, from what I’ve been reading online, some argue that you can’t love someone if you’re not concerned about justice for that person (assuming you are aware of an injustice). The same could be argued for “peace.” (Can there be meaningful peace in the absence of justice?)
I’m afraid I’m behind on compassion post reading this month. I’ve been traveling and only just got home. Looking forward to reading more about these things in the next week and developing a better understanding of compassion, love, justice, and peace.