Compassion

“Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart. You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world. You are willing to share your heart with others.”
― Chögyam Trungpa

This year has seemed to have been a succession of stressful weeks with few breaks in between. Our president’s tweets and actions are a constant disruption that often has genuine consequences for real people. His narcissism, racism, and sociopathy pollute the collective psychology of this country no matter what side you’re on. He has supported dictators and accused pedophiles. He has unilaterally diminished the scale of natural resources, denied climate change is real, flagrantly ignored longstanding ethics related to the presidency, and blatantly, repeatedly lied. His behavior mimics that of an angry, ill-adjusted ten-year-old. The divisiveness and brutality of our president’s speech and action are unrelenting. In effect, we are his psychological prisoners, and that is what worries me.

If you lack an underlying sense of human decency, if you’re a racist, and if you blindly support this president’s destructive agenda then it is unlikely you’ll regain your naturally born compassion. With time those that represent violence, hatred, and discrimination are exposed by their inability to bond with the rest of society. The views of our president are not the views of a nation but merely the gasoline that is being poured onto the fire of dissolution and disenfranchisement of working-class white Americans. The concern I have is for the majority. The people who are going about their lives, struggling to get by and want a better or at least equivalent experience for their children. The psychological bludgeoning by our president and those that support him have the potential to diminish compassion in everyone, not just his devoted followers.

The constant stress and abuse from our president are pushing many people to disconnect. We find ourselves overwhelmed by the fear, so we look for ways to shelter ourselves from the storm. We hope that by unplugging and looking away, we’ll avoid the worst of it. We can weather the abuse because we know deep down that we are only minimally affected by the behavior and policies of the president, so we place our faith instead in Robert Mueller’s criminal investigation, impeachment, etc. and we look away. Much of what is happening now regarding policy will have a profound effect on all of us, whether delayed or not. The clearest and most present danger is ignoring climate change which has a global impact and America is the second largest CO2 emitter. Therefore averting our gaze and avoiding direct interaction with the irrational temper of our government is merely delaying the inevitable. Worse, however, is the fact that our aversion is also diminishing our compassion.

The language of the oppressor, the bully is fear and persistence. If we are afraid all of the time, we tend towards compliance. This is why torture works, inevitably everybody breaks. One of my favorite films Papillon is a study in the persistence of a different kind—resistance. The lead character Henri Charrière is persistent in his struggle against the oppressive forces that want to keep him incarcerated. Based on the novel of the same name, it’s a fictionalized account of the real-life Henri Charrière who escaped himself from various prisons in French Guiana. It’s a story of hope and compassion. Henri chooses to focus on escaping rather than focusing his energy on the guards, despite the way he is treated. His name Papillon is French for butterfly. It is this same butterfly spirit which we need to adopt ourselves in this time of oppression. We must “lean into the sharp points,” as Pema Chodron says so that we can retain the most human of traits, our sense of compassion. By feeling every barb, every ugly moment, we can allow ourselves to get beyond the privilege of avoidance, and we will start to see that everyone suffers. Our escape from this particular prison is the reward of being deeply connected to everyone. The way tyrants are defeated is through love.

It’s a lot to ask during this holiday season when emotions run high to lean into the ugliness that is our president and the politicians who support him but I think the alternative is much darker. If we allow ourselves to shut off the ugliness in our protected corner of the world, then we are also doing harm to those who cannot afford to look away, who have no voice of their own. The homeless, the poor, and refugees need our attention to this matter. The planet also needs our attention. Admitting to and sometimes absorbing other’s suffering as well as our own builds our capacity for caring, and caring leads to us working toward a society that includes everyone, the tired, the poor and the huddled masses. Despite what anyone elected official says or does, staying true to our compassionate nature as human beings are what matters, and the only way to satisfactorily retain that compassion is by remaining steadfast and facing adversity head-on. This is not the time to look away, the stakes are too high.

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