After reading all of your comments all week, just so I can try to make sense of what’s happening here in this community, I feel like I need to make a few distinctions about my understanding about some core spiritual teachings around compassion. First, I’m hearing a lot of you attack and judge me for not being more compassionate and “spiritual” when I take a strong social justice stand. I only take a firm stand when something that is sacred to me is threatened. This IS part of my spirituality, to protect what I hold sacred. Let me explain why I take strong stands and am teaching my daughter that it’s her right to do the same if she wishes.
For me, compassion has feet. It doesn’t just “love and light” and “it’s all good.” It’s NOT all good. All points of view are NOT okay. Some points of view are racist, sexist, dehumanizing, ablest, white supremacist, ecocidal, sociopathic, demeaning to others, greedy, emotionally violent, misguided, confused, narcissistic, and delusional. I listen to all points of view, and I can have compassion for them. But they’re not all equal. Compassion requires us to take firm stands so we can protect what we hold dear.
Compassion is love in action. My compassion for women whose rights to their bodies might be threatened by the loss of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg makes me take a stand for asking everyone to VOTE WITH YOUR FEET in this next election. My compassion for people who are getting sick and dying of COVID makes me take a stand against QAnon and COVID deniers. My compassion for immigrant children being detained without their parents at lonely borders makes me take a stand for immigration reform. My compassion for women who have been molested by predatory men like our President makes me take a stand for #MeToo. My compassion for those who are losing homes, lives, and the ability to breathe because of the out of control wildfires and hurricanes made worse by climate crisis compels me to take a stand that climate crisis is real and we must change our behaviors STAT. My compassion for people of color who are victimized by unequal treatment by police and unjust imprisonment makes me take a stand for Black Lives Matters. My compassion for those who are getting harmed by violent riots makes me take a stand against rioting and violence. My compassion for those our President has treated with cold, contemptuous cruelty—soldiers, women, immigrant children, anyone who takes a stand against him—compels me to say, “Let us restore compassion to the White House. Please.” This is the kind of compassion I want to teach my daughter.
Some of you seem to think that compassion is the same as perspective-taking. I can take on someone else’s perspective to try to understand why someone might have a different point of view than mine. For example, I can imagine that a New Ager turned Q cult follower might need to believe what Q people do because reality is too scary. It’s more comforting to believe that a Great Awakening is happening than to believe the American Empire is going down and we might be in the midst of a mass extinction event. My compassion for someone’s childlike need to believe in a delusion helps me stay in my heart, but then, from my heart, I can take a stand with other wellness influencers against the destructive beliefs of Q leading to COVID denial, climate denial, denial of systemic racism, and other far-right delusions. I can also take a stand against pharmaceutical industry corruption, pedophilia, and anyone who threatens to destroy the medical ethic of informed consent over medical intervention. I can take a stand for economic equality and stand against people of privilege and power who hoard resources and turn their backs on others who suffer in poverty. This is part of my compassion—taking a stand and letting you all know where I stand. If you’re following spiritual teachers who never take a stand, ask yourself why. Is it more spiritual to support oppression, violence, racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, and ecocide with our silence? If you think so, why do you believe this? It’s my point of view that those who do not take a stand are taking a clear stand for the oppressor. This is not the kind of meek, pale, gutless compassion I want to teach my 14-year-old daughter. I want my daughter to know where she stands and not be afraid to take a point of view, even if it differs from mine—and I’m modeling that with her.
I do not want to teach my daughter what Robert Augustus Masters, author of Spiritual Bypassing calls “Blind compassion,” which is what my mother taught me, and it made me very vulnerable to a lifetime of tolerating abusive, narcissistic, sociopathic people in the name of compassion. Here’s how he describes blind compassion:
“Blind compassion is rooted in the belief that we are all doing the best we can. When we are driven by blind compassion, we cut everyone far too much slack, making excuses for others’ behavior and making nice situations that require a forceful “no”, an unmistakable voicing of displeasure, or a firm setting and maintaining of boundaries. These things can, and often should be done out of love, but blind compassion keeps love too meek, sentenced to wearing a kind face.
Blind compassion is kindness rooted in fear, and not just fear of confrontation, but also fear of not coming across as a good or spiritual person. When we are engaged in blind compassion we rarely show anger, for we not only believe that compassion has to be gentle, we are also frightened of upsetting anyone, especially to the point of their confronting us. This is reinforced by our judgment about anger, especially in its more fiery forms, as something less spiritual; something that shouldn’t be there if we were being truly loving. Blind compassion reduces us to harmony junkies, entrapping us in unrelentingly positive expression.
With blind compassion we don’t know how to – or won’t learn how to – say “no” with any real power, avoiding confrontation at all costs and, as a result, enabling unhealthy patterns to continue. Our “yes” is then anemic and impotent, devoid of impact it could have if we were also able to access a clear, strong “no” that emanated from our core.
When we mute our essential voice, our openness is reduced to a permissive gap, an undiscerning embrace, a poorly boundaries receptivity, all of which indicate a lack of compassion for ourselves (in that we don’t adequately protect ourselves). Blind compassion confuses anger with aggression, forcefulness with violence, judgment with condemnation, caring with exaggerated tolerance, and more tolerance with spiritual correctness.” – Robert Augustus Masters, Spiritual Bypassing
I’m trying to teach my daughter the kind of compassion that is brave enough to risk upsetting people or losing Facebook followers because there is injustice in the world and those of us with power and privilege damn well better use it to stand up against the many global crises in our world that are unequally affecting those without power and privilege. Compassion is a verb in our house, not a platitude to put on your altar.
If conflict is still too scary for you, this is a trauma response, and trauma can be treated. What I really feel empathically when people tell me to be more compassionate is that they’re blended with little child parts that just want to cry, “Everyone stop fighting please,” as if all conflict is scary. This makes me feel sad because some peaceful conflict is necessary if we’re going to have a more just world.
Once you treat and love and become intimate with the conflict avoiding, spiritual bypassing parts, you can heal the parts they protect and find your clear, loving compassionate voice.
I hope those of you who have been taught blind compassion can feel my compassion for you. If your religion, your parents, your teachers, or anyone who wanted to abuse and control you taught you blind compassion is more “spiritual” than allowing your healthy anger to fuel you into open-hearted peaceful activism, I’m sorry. That was once me, so I get how devastating it can be to see you got gaslit. My prayer is that those of you who are triggered by my fierce compassion will heal the parts that are scared of conflict and find your own fiercely loving stand.
As Daniel Schmachtenberger said, “If I’m angry, it’s proportional to what I care about. Every negative emotion is a response to care and love. If you feel angry, find what it is that you hold as sacred and ask ‘How is what I hold sacred getting violated?’ See the sacredness in it and ask “Am I willing to make sacrifices to protect that sacred thing?” That’s when it’s appropriate to use your will, aligned with what you love. To do this, you’ll need your mind, your heart, and your gut. Your mind needs clarity on what it is that you love and hold sacred and are willing to protect. Your heart needs to feel heartbroken because what you care about is being hurt. Your gut will give you the courage to do something about it. Think about and feel into what is most sacred to you. What will still matter after you’re dead? What are you devoted to and willing to sacrifice your comfort for—because it matters so much and you love it so much? What is at the heart of what is meaningful about life? Take time to feel into it and connect to whatever has you feel that. Between now and when you die, think about the biggest problems in the world that you understand—climate change, racism, AI warfare, human trafficking. What do you really care about? Feel what bothers you. What is the actual state of the world you live in? Then ask yourself, “If this is really what I care about, what should I be doing to be congruent with my own self, my own deepest values? What am I doing now that is different than that? How do I close that gap?”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s compassion had feet, and I’m so sad we lost her but so grateful she served us with her compassionate action for so many decades. May she rest in peace while inspiring us to pick up the torch she passes us all.
What do you stand for? Where does your compassion have feet?
If you want to practice taking a stand through your writing (which is my favorite way to take a stand,) there are still a few more days before we close enrollment for my first virtual writing workshop, Alchemizing Uncertain Times Through Writing. Our next live class is Monday, September 21. Enroll here.
PS. If you want to learn more about fierce compassion, my Inner Pilot Light talks a LOT about it in my book The Daily Flame.