If you think about it, who you are today is simply a product of your genes and past life experience – neither of which are in your control. Some might disagree with me by arguing that we are conscious humans who are capable of making decisions and choosing our actions – but what are these decisions and choices based on? Genes and past experience.
Let me illustrate my point with an animal story (everyone loves those): We have a pet dog named Jimmy. One day Jimmy bites a kid. We don’t go blaming the dog for being “bad” and exacting some kind of elaborate punishment in the name of morality. Everyone understands Jimmy was just following his nature, we accept that this is the way he is because he is a dog with a disposition for biting. We have to take a calm approach to this; maybe we can make Jimmy wear a muzzle, maybe we can train him to be more friendly, maybe we will have to put Jimmy down because he is part wolf and will probably strike again. We don’t hate or blame Jimmy, we accept and manage the reality of the situation. Why treat people any differently?
If we take this point of view, then it becomes difficult to feel anger towards anyone. A more constructive approach of understanding and acceptance becomes the default – this is compassion.
Compassion changes lives
Victimisers have always been victims of others who created negative experiences for them in their past. And those people from their past are also victims from their own pasts. This is a chain of causation that reaches back through history. It is up to each of us to break it by being compassionate instead of reinforcing the cycle through poorly thought-out, aggressive responses.
An example that most of us can relate to is an aggressive friend or family member. If we take the position of blame then we fight back which leads to things spiralling out of control and increasing aggression within the relationship until breaking point. If we take the position of compassion then we respond with warmth and empathy to their behaviour – we can find ways to assist them to calm down and take a different perspective. If helped like this over some time then this part of their personality can eventually be improved as they learn new and better ways to respond to their situation.
This is good news. The past experiences that make us who we are today can be changed because today’s experiences are tomorrow’s past experiences. That means we can help ourselves and others to improve by creating new positive experiences together.
Compassion changes the world
A more macro example of a political/social context is how we view and treat criminals. If we take position of blame then we will tend to punish because of simplistic ideas of eye for an eye justice. This just causes more psychological damage to the criminal who will probably be released into the community again at some point.
If we take the position of compassion then we also see the criminal as a victim and seek opportunities for reform. They probably still need to be locked up to deter others or protect the public from their re-offending but the focus would be on re-education and the prison would come to be seen as a kind of school.
Compassion changes you
By adopting this mindset, we can eventually develop a spontaneous compassion response to any situation. We can calmly look at the situation and work out why it is happening and what could be done about it. The negativity just flows through you instead of getting stuck inside creating a great sense of inner peace.
How far should we take it?
Obviously we cannot go around as some kind of compassionate superhero trying to help every single person we meet in a comprehensive way. We don’t have unlimited time and energy. In my life, I prioritise based on how important the person is to me and how much real difference I think can be made by helping. Some people can change a lot just from simple talk that shows them something in a way they haven’t thought of before. Some people will never change. In any case, the least we can do is be understanding and manage every person we meet with a gentle, benevolent, compassion.