Advanced Issues: Compassion verses Opposition

So far I’ve been talking about issues from an introductory level, and I’ve been speaking of them from the “authoritarian voice”.  I’m going to use this post as a chance to change both tone and target.  I’m going to talk about one of the bigger philosophical issues on my mind, and my outlook on it.  Take from this what you will.

Philosophically, I’d like to think of myself as Pseudhist–pseudo Buddhist.  My beliefs pull from human observation and analysis within the context of my background, combined with a level of Catholic teaching and a fair to middling education. I refined my beliefs with a great deal of discussion and experience with my closest friends, who we have established are rather intelligent themselves.  We’ve spent a lot of time discussing philosophy and ethics.  The end result, for me, has put a high value on compassion.  After solving all the worlds problems many times over (as young philosophers are wont to do), my friends and I have come to understand that we, humanity, tend to behave better when we are shown compassion.  We, as humans, screw up.  Whether we make bad decisions out of our pain or out of the height of our hubris, we make bad decisions.  We all do it, repeatedly.  It’s not only us at our most open and emotional, good or bad, but it’s how we learn.  In other words, it’s us when we’re most human.  So when we screw up royally, we tend to be pretty vulnerable.  When we show some compassion to each other in those moments, the action tends to salve that vulnerability and help a person build up in a more positive direction.  Sometimes this difference is absolutely microscopic.  Other times it’s life changing.  But, in my experience, it only helps.  It’s remembered, even if it’s 20 years later.

Compassion comes from understanding.  It comes from a recognition that, on some level, you and the subject are the same.  It could be you.  If you carry this idea out to it’s far end, as you do with many philosophies and religions, you find yourself feeling compassion and demonstrating understanding for everyone.  You get why they have done what they’ve done.  You can, on some level, understand the internal (though likely faulty) logic that leads them to their conclusions.  You recognize the small world that each human mind represents.  If you begin to understand that logic, if you can show compassion to each person you come across, then it becomes very difficult to judge them.  You end up with compassion for–and even love for–people of all stripes.

Now let’s take opposition.  By this I mean the act of opposing someone else.  This act requires that you have judged a situation and decided that it is unacceptable.  You have decided to oppose someone’s action.  We all know what it means to get into a fight, so I won’t labor this issue.

Here’s where the grander conflict happens–what happens when you have compassion for someone, but you seek to oppose their actions?  What is happening inside?  If you are practicing true compassion, can you do this in good conscience?  Most importantly, where do you draw the line?

Here’s what I’ve come to so far:

We can have as much compassion as we want, and we can understand each other to the ends of the earth.  Many, many wonderful things are possible through this compassion and understanding.  But we share this earth, and this time together.  What you do has an impact on me, no matter what.  Even if I minimize that impact by closing myself off to you, you’re still having an impact.  A wave may hit a wall and not seem to damage it, but it still had an impact.  It still washed away microscopic particles and left little cracks.  I may understand that you’re being a major asshole because you just had a bad breakup and you’re quietly hiding how bad the damage is.  I can potentially let all your bull wash off me because I have deep compassion for you.  In some cases, that may make all the difference for you.  But there is a point after which the damage you are dealing–to me, you, and any other bystanders–just has to stop.  So, I’m going to stop you.  I’m going to try to show you compassion all the way through, but I’m going to stop you.

Now, this is a tricky call to make in the first place.  Compassion is powerful, and often requires immense patience.  Pulling the opposition card often grinds a lot of that slow progress to a halt and gives the other party something to fight.  Understanding goes out the window.  It’s a tough call to make on my part.  I save it for situations that seem dangerous for the person, or for someone around them.  Otherwise, I try to show some patience.  Then again, I have a high pain threshold.

The flip side of this is, is more opposition good?  In my experience if I’m highly compassionate, patient, and understanding, I tend to let people run their course.  To the extreme, I let them hang themselves with their own rope.  It’s compassion, but it’s also letting them learn the lessons of their own actions for themselves.  It’s a kind of respect, but it’s also potentially pain and suffering that could be prevented.  If I act more, if I oppose more, there are more fights, but I also potentially stop actions I don’t approve of early.  The results can be messy, but they could yield big dividends. Is it worth it?

I’m not proposing a right or wrong answer here.  In fact, I’m not saying one exists.  I feel like this is a fundamental conflict we feel daily.  Understanding this conflict, getting to the root of it, and knowing how we and others handle it is, I feel, at the root of solving a lot of other problems.

What do you think?


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