Is it stupid to be kind? Is compassion for suckers? These questions arose on Friday when I posted one of the meditations from my book, Your Daily Shot of Hope: Meditations for an Age of Despair on Facebook and asked whether folks thought kindness and compassion are possible. Here’s the meme:
In reply, one friend posted:
I think we need self protection since not everyone is kind and compassionate.
Is she right? Does my willingness to be kind and compassionate depend on your willingness to meet me the same way? In other words, do kindness and compassion leave us unprotected? I don’t think they do.
Self protection involves one or several of the following strategies.
- We use words.
- We take non-violent action.
- We employ violence.
We can stand up for ourselves and our ideas with forceful, clear language, but our words don’t have to be belittling. We can also protect ourselves by taking non-violent action. We can walk away from a bad situation. We can sue an individual or an organization. We can boycott, protest, march, organize, run for office, raise money, and do a thousand other things without calling names or acting like bullies. All of these actions are the essence of kindness and compassion, but what about the worst-case scenario? What if our lives are in danger, or worse still, the lives of our loved ones?
I used to call myself a pacifist, but then my son was born, and I realized I’d do anything to protect him, but how can I claim to be kind and compassionate and even consider the use of violence? I do so by remembering a lesson the great karate teacher Joan Nelson once taught a gaggle of new students. She taught that true self defense is about doing only as much as you need to keep yourself and others safe. If someone is threatening you and you can run away, then run away. If you can’t immediately run, then inflict only as much pain as is needed to give you an opportunity to run. If you can’t escape, then inflict only as much physical harm as is needed to stop the attack. I first listened to Joan’s lesson nearly 40 years ago. It’s still the best explanation of self defense I’ve ever heard.
It has been hard to write this blog. I feel like I haven’t adequately explained my ideas, but I also think we can’t afford to act as if compassion equals surrender. Doing so means we create a world where kindness is a joke and compassion is for losers.
What do you think?
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