Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Misguided Notion of Compassion

Today on my way to work, I listened to an interview on NPR. That's the liberalist, hippy dippy, practically communist (or socialist, whichever you prefer, since in America the two entirely different things are synonymous) and "sheeple" creating radio station. I like it because I'm one of the sheeple. A liberal idiot. It's just who I am. Sorry about that, but I make no apologies.


Ishmael Beah was being interviewed and he's a dude from Sierra Leone, who was once a child soldier. And he wrote a memoir. Politics aside, one thing he said was this:

During Sierra Leone's war, there was a lot of amputation going on where people were mutilated in different parts of their body. ... As you see in this character, this old man, he refused to look at his friend, and when he finally found the courage to lift his head, he was checking to make sure if she was intact. And if she wasn't intact, if he was ready to take this burden of what she may look like — what she may be missing — into his memory.

And so I started thinking, which is not something sheeple usually do, but I did it anyway. I attempt compassion towards others all the time; every day. I'm not always successful because I'm a fundamentally flawed human being, like many other people are. I also try to be compassionate toward myself. That's even more difficult than showing compassion to others!

But then this idea floats past - what does it mean when compassion towards oneself  means being "less than" fully compassionate towards another. Because the idea that seeing someone who is not intact and taking the burden of that knowledge into one's memory as being somehow too difficult to do, seems to fly in the face of what it means to be compassionate towards others. How can my own self-protection still be housed under the umbrella of "compassionate living" if my actions seem hostile to another?

For a while now I've been on this little path of change. I've written about it in other posts and the details for this particular conundrum are hardly important. But along this psychological hike of mine, I've had to let go of some people and habits which had come to feel like burdens versus positives. Every time something was released, it felt so awful. Each time felt like I was committing a terribly heinous act of extreme selfishness. Sometimes I've questioned whether I'm being narcissistic in my quest for a "best self." After all, who in the holy hell am I to demand the room to be my best self? How VERY American of me....

However, each release, each scuttled burden from my emotional or physical life, has left me freer to concentrate my best self energy on the things and people around me who enrich my life; who give to my life as much as I seek to give to them. All the fine inspirations and quotes on Pinterest and Facebook, which extol the virtues of being the friend who stays no matter what, fail to recognize that a truly enriching relationship is the result of give and give. Taking is secondary - for everyone involved.

I have decided, thanks to Mr. Beah and his one little sound byte, that part of being true to myself means letting go of the absolute responsibility to never sever any tie; that allowing myself the freedom from toxicity, in any form, is totally and in all ways protected by the umbrella of compassionate living.

Because as the flight attendant reminds us before every single flight, you really DO have to secure your own survival before seeking to help the person beside you.