This is the third and final Meanderings exploring the 3 Tenets of a Hero, which also happen to be our company’s values: Courage, Honor, and Compassion. As mentioned before, we try to help the Heroes in our educational adventures define each of these three tenets for themselves. I have been presenting my own view of each term as an example which I hope might inspire some dialog for the reader or their hero. These are large, encompassing concepts and discussion is a wonderful way to help us decide what works for us.
Which brings us to Compassion… I think of compassion as being able to feel the pain (or pleasure) of another person.
In my experience, compassion’s greatest obstacle is fear. As I mentioned in my first essay, fear of pain closes and armors the heart. Only courage can soften and open it. The challenge is to understand that having compassion for someone or something doesn’t mean I have to remain passive. I believe it’s possible to have compassion for someone – even a person who would harm me or others – and still act to keep that person from causing harm.
As well, adhering to our honor can have a painful outcome for others – even people we may love. If I fear feeling the pain that my action causes (even if I feel I am acting justly) in myself or in others, I can end up muzzling my compassion. Muzzle it enough and compassion, this treasured skill, will wither and wilt. I believe it’s possible to do the right thing and still feel compassion for those who are hurt by my actions. It’s also important to do the right thing and still feel compassion for my own pain.
I like to think of compassion as a sort of mental muscle. The more we use it, the stronger and more resilient it becomes within us. I see compassion as different than love in that love can be exclusive (“I love my family” is a statement that excludes those who are not family). However, compassion is able to be all inclusive. We can strive to feel compassion for all beings by understanding that all beings want happiness.
I don’t think there is such a thing as too much compassion. However, it can be easy to confuse compassion with hypersensitivity. Hypersensitivity is when we “feel too much” and our sense of another person’s pain overwhelms us. This can both drain us and make us afraid of enforcing our personal boundaries. As well, when we focus on the pain of others and ignore our own pain (and the antidote of self care), we can experience emotional burn-out.
As a Hospice volunteer, I have to pay particular attention to emotional burn-out. It’s easy to feel a deep connection with your patients and to grow very fond of them. Even though I go into the relationship knowing that it will end relatively soon, the kind and depth of conversation many dying people are interested in having makes it almost impossible to remain emotionally distant. And so I allow myself to open my heart, knowing full well that the loss will be painful. However, after I help a patient transition, I take time to care for myself and mourn. I may attend a Hospice support meeting or guide myself through personal rituals to help process the loss. It helps that I know in my heart that in the end, the gift of their relationship outweighs every bit of pain that I experience.
I personally believe that of the three tenets, Compassion is the most important. It is what causes me to question my internal code of honor. And it is the spark that ignites my courage to dare and open my heart even when I am hurt or afraid. Compassion doesn’t have to hold back action – but it certainly can (and should) temper it. A warrior without compassion is nothing more than a weapon. A hero without compassion will be blind to the lives they serve.
Fly high the flag of compassion. Let it guide our action. For in this, we define what it truly means to be human.