Tag Archives: compassion

Anxiety, Inaction and Compassion

This week, splendid Druid blogger Cat Treadwell put up a really brave piece of writing about how anxiety has been making her freeze. https://druidcat.wordpress.com/2022/08/23/update-2/

I recognise all of this, and it’s an issue that has crippled me repeatedly this year, leaving me unable to function at times. I’ve not talked about it much because I haven’t known how to, but seeing Cat’s post inclines me to step up. It’s a lot easier to think about these things when they affect other people. What Cat is going through clearly isn’t ok, and I wouldn’t blame her for that in the way that I tend to blame myself for my issues.

What do we expect of each other? What do we assume in face of other people’s efforts, shortcomings and struggles? If you start from the assumption that everyone is doing the best they can with what they’ve got, then it’s a good deal easier to stay kind when people fall short of the mark. Sooner or later, we all mess up, or aren’t as good as would have been ideal. It’s a human thing. It is necessary to be able to say when things aren’t good enough, but it’s better not to assume this is either malice or lack of care.

Assumptions of laziness plague people who are ill. This is not an accident. It’s a deliberate approach coming from both governments and media, to blame and shame people who are struggling and to put the burden of responsibility onto them. Right now in the UK we’re seeing that extended to all people in poverty who are being told they must work harder, even though the problem is clearly the amount of profit going to shareholders.

There’s nothing lazy about wanting time to rest and recover, or needing to get well. There’s also nothing lazy about a person not wanting to work themselves to death so that someone else can make a profit out of them. Most of us are doing the best we can with what we’ve got – when what we’ve got isn’t enough and there is too much that we feel under pressure to do. No one should feel frightened or ashamed for trying to meet their own basic needs, but here we are.

It costs nothing to lift, support and encourage people. It is an easy thing to affirm that you know people are doing their best. Keep your rage and frustration for the people who create the impossible situations we’re all now in, not the people who are just trying to deal with it and cope. There is power in kindness, and the potential for transformative change in not adding blame and humiliation to the burdens people are already bearing.

It is easier to act when you feel supported. When you anticipate knockdowns, criticism and humiliation it is very hard to do anything. Being distressed to the point of being unable to function doesn’t improve anything for anyone. We can all contribute to doing better around this, by deliberately lifting and encouraging people when we can. Culture – after all – is just people, and as people we have the power to change how it works.


Reasons not to help

If you’re in a situation where you can’t help with something because you’re too busy helping with something else – fair enough. If you don’t have the resources to respond to a crisis, because of the other crisis you’re responding to this is certainly an issue. The person fighting for ecocide laws doesn’t necessarily have anything to spare for tackling homelessness right now. The people volunteering for The Samaritans probably don’t have the resources to be raising awareness of domestic abuse. 

It’s also true that if you are in crisis, you can hardly be expected to be trying to pull someone else out of a different burning building.

And these are never the people online saying ‘we should be helping this other group of people instead.’ People doing the work are never, in my experience, the people who want someone else not to get help. They might make a case for why their cause is more urgent right now – and that can be an important thing to do, too. But even so, I don’t see genuine activists minimising other people’s issues.

I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘we should help these other people first’ is a massive red flag. It can mean you’re dealing with someone who is absorbing hate-media in uncritical ways. It definitely means you’re dealing with someone who believes in a hierarchy of worth and that some people are more deserving of help when in crisis, than others are. How this plays out in practice tends to involve no one being deserving enough and no help being offered. No matter what the excuse is, the idea that some people don’t deserve help, or should be made to wait while other, more deserving people are helped, fundamentally rejects the humanity of people who are in need. 

The people who say we should help our own homeless people first, are also (I strongly suspect) the people who won’t want resources ‘wasted’ on the kind of homeless people who ‘do it to themselves’ or have ‘chosen’ this life. The ones with addictions, especially. The people who say we should help our own poor people first will often turn out not to think all of those people deserve help. Not the single mothers who have fecklessly ‘got themselves pregnant’ not the lazy ones, not the ones who have phones. 

People whose first reaction is to think of reasons why a person should not be helped tend to just keep doing that. It’s not about directing help where it might most be needed, but instead is about abdicating responsibility while trying to look like being moral and having values.


No one should be considered disposable

One of the hopeful things to come out of France re-electing Macron as president, is his promise that ‘no one will be left by the wayside’. France, like many countries, is facing a cost of living crisis. I am in no doubt that this crisis is fuelled by the way politicians have pandered to the desires of the unreasonably rich. 

Nothing drives people to political extremes like poverty does. The rise of the far right at the moment has everything to do with the widening wealth gap, and the way in which far right politics offer simple solutions to slightly more complicated problems. Rather than deal with the inequality, the far right encourages people to hate and abuse minorities, misdirecting justified rage towards people who are not the cause of our problems. Moving towards the right in this way means giving more power to those who are invested in further widening the wealth gap.

When more extreme groups get political traction, the result can be that previously more moderate groups move towards them. This has certainly happened with the Tory party in the UK, who may have successfully dealt with parties like UKIP by moving into their territory. Leaving the EU has made us a nastier and more racist country, as our treatment of refugees clearly demonstrates.

I hope that Macron is serious about tackling inequality. I hope that we will see moves towards fairness as a way of responding to the rise of fascism. People don’t make good choices when they’re under-resourced and scared – those conditions make all of us more vulnerable to manipulation and less able to make good decisions. We all need food, shelter, and basic security, and we urgently need political approaches that are about dealing with basic needs rather than treating most people as disposable for the sake of the profits of the few.

Billionaires are not successful people. Billionaires are total failures. They are people who have taken too much and do not know when to stop. Their compulsions are toxic to all life on the planet. To have so much when others are suffering, is a state of failure. That some people have been allowed to skew everything so badly, is a situation of political failure. That we treat these disasters as success is a collective failure of understanding and compassion.

We urgently need to do a lot better.


How to change things

Knocking people down is easy. Knocking people down to make yourself look good is really easy, and a low effort ego-boost if you aren’t careful. So, please hear me as tongue in cheek as I mention how those other people are doing it wrong, blogging their complaints about the greed and selfishness of others while I have the moral high ground over here talking about the importance of bigging people up.

Anger and frustration are entirely natural emotional responses. There’s certainly plenty out there to get angry with, and nothing wrong with feeling it. No emotion is wrong. But, we then get a lot of choices around what we do in response to any given emotion. Knocking someone else down can feel like power. It can feel like taking a significant, meaningful action. However, politics in recent years has demonstrated that often when you try to knock people down, they’re more likely to dig in with their position. Feeling humiliated and got-at doesn’t tend to bring out the best in people.

There are a lot of stories out there in which evil characters do evil things because they are evil. It’s one of the most unhelpful stories we habitually tell each other. People do things for reasons, and at the time they tend to think their reasons are good ones, or justified, or necessary. When people seem to be acting badly, it’s worth stepping back and asking what might be underpinning that. Often the roots can be found in fear – we live in insecure societies with most people in debt and a paycheck or two from utter disaster. Individual coping mechanisms for this can often add to the problems as well as distracting from them. Scared people seldom make good choices.

As social creatures, humans are motivated by the approval of others. When this goes wrong, it can drive a person deeper into the embrace of a toxic relationship, or for that matter, a toxic community. If everyone else is calling you stupid, you’re going to cling that bit harder to the people who tell you that you’re very clever. Cults and conspiracy theories alike thrive on this.

Knocking people down doesn’t reliably persuade them that you are right. But it does fuel the kind of anxiety that pushes people towards the things that offer them apparent uplift. A lot of populist politics depend on this. It doesn’t help that money, and the display of money through rampant consumerism is one of the few routes most people are offered towards being socially respected. It’s a precarious path, and it doesn’t get the majority where they want to be so it feeds resentment and dissatisfaction as well.

If we want to make real change – socially or environmentally – we have to persuade people to engage. People who feel belittled by a minority aren’t going to step away from a culture that promises to reward them for being selfish. It is essential to lift and inspire people rather than just criticising them. We’re all flawed, we all have things we do badly and competitive virtue signalling isn’t reliably virtuous. When it comes to making change in the world, I feel strongly that kindness and compassion are the key virtues to cultivate. Even if you do that primarily to try and impress people with your performance, it still works. If everyone is trying to perform kindness, we can get some good things done.

Kindness and compassion do not require us to be uncritical, but presentation can make a lot of odds. It’s possible to dismantle ideas without attacking people, and I think it gets more done to offer people ways of feeling better about themselves.


Demon shield – fiction

The shield is made by her hand.

All the demons tried to eat this girl.

She never fights with anyone.

Just bravely standing up and smiling up.

I am dying every second and reborn every moment.

Please do kill me as you wish.

I am never afraid of demons.

Beat me, it hurts demons themselves.

Scream out, the words will shower and turn to mist.

In my body my blood river is running

From pure hearts given by my mother.

True love shields inside me.

No demons are beside you now.

We turn ourselves into demons. We do it for power, for bodies that are stronger and can take more damage and do more harm. We give up what was soft and tender, inside and out. The most important thing is winning. The only thing. It leaves no room for other desires, for other feelings. No price is too high for victory and we sacrifice ourselves on the altar of triumph.

Fear us. Hate us. Fight us. You have to fight us. It only makes sense if you fight back. We are your enemy. Feed us your hatred. Justify us with the force of your wrath. We cannot be forgiven, you must not forgive us. We cannot be loved, we have chosen to go beyond acceptance, we scorn your compassion. How can we destroy you if you refuse to fight us? How can we prove our superiority if you don’t even want to win?

(Art by Dr Abbey, text by both of us, more worldbuilding and playing with ideas.)


Druidry and Confession

I’ve felt for some time now that the Catholics are on to something with confession. There are times when it would be an enormous relief to be able to tell someone the things.

As Druids don’t have a clear set of rules in the first place, it would be down to the individual to decide what they need to confess. We wouldn’t need to frame it as sin necessarily. Failures, shortcomings, mistakes, bad ideas, poor responses – whatever a person felt uncomfortable about, could be usefully owned in a safe space.

The wise and experienced Druid hearing the confession could then tell us what they think of it. There are times when it would be really helpful to hear things like ‘this is just ordinary human error.’ ‘Clearly you could not have know how this would work out’ and things of that ilk. Feedback that isn’t forgiveness, but that could be permission to forgive yourself. We all mess up, but it can be hard not to beat yourself up over mistakes.

Confession in a Druid context wouldn’t be about penitence or punishment, but it might be about restorative justice. Again there are lots of times when it might be of great benefit to have someone else’s wisdom in the mix. Imagine someone who can say ‘you really do need to apologise for this’ or ‘here are some things you could try that might be restorative.’

People who are having a hard time with their mental health and/or dealing with abuse can end up feeling responsible for things that aren’t of their making. The process of confessing could open the way to hearing that you may be taking too much onto yourself or judging yourself too harshly. It could signpost the way to therapy, or to kinder thoughts. Sometimes being told that you can’t possibly be responsible for what’s going on is the first step to recognising an abusive situation. None of this requires much in the way of qualification, I think. Just enough life experience to spot when people feel responsible for things they cannot possibly be responsible for.

There would be relief in being able to say to someone ‘this is how I have messed up’ and hearing their take on it, offered in kindness. Obviously there’s no formal way to do this at the moment, but it is something we might be able to do for each other.


Embracing the negativity

It’s a common thing in supposedly spiritual spaces – advice about how to free yourself from negativity, and how to avoid being affected by the negativity of others. It’s one of those things that at first glance looks like wisdom. Negativity doesn’t sound very spiritual, transcending it does. But let’s break that down a bit.

Who and what is negative?

People who are critical – and sometimes that is worth avoiding, but these can also be people who are trying to help and avoiding negativity because you don’t want to hear you’ve messed up, is not a path to growth, wellbeing or enlightenment.

People who are sad. People who are in pain and grief and depression, who have been wounded by life, who have no hope or confidence or the means to help themselves. These are people who often need help, warmth, companionship and compassion. Vibrating ourselves off to some higher frequency where we do not participate in that pain, is horrible. There’s no spiritual good to be found in protecting ourselves in this way, it is a selfish, privilege  rejection of the suffering in the world. None of us can fix everything, but we can be open, we can bring love and care, patience and gentleness where we can. A spiritual path that has no time for the distress of others, is a route to being inhuman, unkind and self absorbed.

People who are angry. Anger is a hard emotion to deal with, in ourselves and in others. Anger directed towards the self can feel threatening. But if we aren’t prepared to look at why that’s happening, we can’t learn, or improve. If people are angry and we make no effort to understand them, we may miss out important life lessons. If someone is maliciously angry all the time, seeking those higher vibrations to avoid negativity won’t really help, it may even serve to keep us trapped in dangerous situations.

People who don’t care. I admit this is the one I find hardest. It is perhaps the most subtle form of negativity. The people who don’t care, don’t respond, do nothing – they can quietly suck the life out of just about anything. It’s something I want to avoid, because I find it exhausting. But at the same time, these are people who maybe need lifting out of themselves inspiring, cheering and encouraging. It’s good to be able to show up for that at least some of the time.

When positivity is relentless it becomes toxic. It isn’t a force for spiritual good beyond a certain point. We are meant to feel more than just happy all the time, and the rejection of great swathes of what it means to be human does not make us better people. If you are somehow happy all the time, to be closed to those who are unhappy is not a spiritual outcome. It means being less compassionate. Love is a messy, complicated thing, spiritual love included and if we do not deploy our spiritual love to embrace those who are manifesting negativity, then what even is the point?


What is compassion?

Compassion, as a spiritual virtue, is something I’ve only ever aspired to, and not with much hope of being able to achieve it. As a spiritual concept, it comes up in many religions – Hindu, Jain and Buddhist thinking explores compassion as something to practice, while Judaism, Christianity and Islam tend to see it as the territory of God. Either way, it’s not easy work.

Compassion comes from the person feeling it. There are no transactions here, no earning the right to be treated compassionately. To be truly compassionate is not to judge. I tend to judge. It means what I do is better framed as kindness, or sympathy because it is partial and I know I cannot extend it to everyone. How you manifest your compassion may well depend on judgement, but the initial recognition of a fellow suffering human does not.

I would like to be able to see everyone as containing a sacred spark, as equally worthy, as all deserving love and compassion. I’ve thought about what kinds of qualities I would need to develop to move towards this state of being. It calls for a vast capacity to love and accept and to recognise our shared condition even in people who do the worst things. I feel very strongly that as soon as we’re talking about the limits of compassion, we aren’t actually talking about compassion any more.

As someone who isn’t compassionate, I am able and inclined to get angry about how I see this term used in some quarters. It is a popular word with people who wish to be seen as spiritual. Too easily, it becomes a demand for other people to appease them. Why are you not treating me with more compassion? It’s an easy knockback if, for example, you’ve just been called out for something. It tends to be people with privilege in the first place who feel entitled to demand compassion from others. It also tends to be people with privilege who practice compassion towards themselves – especially when someone has asked them to do something difficult, uncomfortable or otherwise unappealing to them. I can’t help you right now, I am practicing compassion towards myself.

Compassion towards self is such an attractive mask to slide over the face of total selfishness. It’s the mask that proclaims virtue while hiding the least attractive and least spiritual motives. These are people I usually fail to find compassion for.

I think compassion is something to aspire to. In the meantime, empathy is a good thing to try and develop. Sympathy can run too close to pity, but when we empathise we start to see how we could have ended up in the same place. How easy it is to fall through the gaps, or be led astray, or let the least helpful part of yourself grab the steering wheel. When we can see that we all have the scope to do both wonderful and terrible things, it is easier, I suspect, to cultivate compassion. Those times when we can’t do it will be able to teach us a lot about who and how we are, and what we fear in ourselves. It’s not people who have evolved beyond their worst impulses who may be best able to practice compassion. It may well be the people who have faced their own darkness so that they do not have to fear it in others. I’m not at all sure, but I think it’s worth pondering.


Identifying Predators

Last week I blogged about a very uncomfortable situation involving a poet. On that post, there’s a long conversation with someone who wanted to make the case for empathy. Neuro-divergent people have trouble with social cues and can come across badly – was the gist of it.

This is indeed a fair point, and having dealt with all kinds of situations where that’s been an issue, it’s something I’m alert to. If someone is handling things badly because of how their brain is wired, I don’t want to make things harder for them. However, it is really, really important that this does not become a way of letting predators off the hook. Compassion should be kind, but if that ‘compassion and empathy’ ignores a real danger to a person, or minimises abuse, that’s not helping at all.

I’ve yet to meet a person who wasn’t neuro-typical who wanted to use that as an excuse to creep people out and leave them feeling anxious and threatened. Although no doubt that happens too, because no group is free from people with bad intentions. Most people who aren’t good at social situations don’t want to have other people feeling threatened and afraid. However, predators will use any cover they can get, if we let them.

I invite you to read this very difficult blog post about Pagan Predators, and ask how many of those might have been excused as people who were not neuro-typical, should we choose to apply that logic. Making excuses is something often done by well meaning people who want to not have to challenge creepy behaviour.  How do you tell if someone is deliberately creep or just not coping? Especially at the early stages when they were just getting warmed up? For me, whether or not they are mortified if there turns out to be a problem is a pretty good indicator.

In this blog, pay particular attention to the guy in the tent who can’t hear ‘no’ and ignores boundaries. We don’t know what’s going on with him, but whatever it is, the behaviour is inexcusable just the same. Compassion has to extend to everyone. Ignoring creepy behaviour in case it comes from a place of neuro-divergence is not a responsible choice.

http://sarahannelawless.com/2018/09/28/sexual-trauma-in-the-pagan-community/

We aren’t doing anyone a favour if we let them cause harm because they can’t tell the other person isn’t interested. You aren’t doing neuro-divergent people a favour if you present them as largely unable to tell when they might be totally out of order – that’s a dreadful assumption that does a great many people a gross disservice. It’s a way of perpetrating ideas about divergence that actually promotes prejudice rather than challenging it. I’ve left the comments on the original post, should anyone want to read them.

 


It’s all so easy in the New Age (and why that makes me want to punch people)

Sometimes I read New Age stuff – don’t judge me, work requires it now and then. I am struck, over and over by how easy it is all supposed to be. Just say your positive affirmations, cut out the money attraction symbol and stick it in your wallet. Know that the universe loves you. Buy a very expensive rainbow unicorn Atlantis faerie guide object and never worry again!

I see the New Age memes go by on twitter all the time, the ones that say you have the power to change everything, fix everything, make everything good. And I wonder how that’s supposed to apply if you live in a war zone, if your child is dying of starvation, if your family are lost, if you are in the sea having fallen out of a refugee boat… I wonder what the homeless and the hungry are supposed to do in terms of positive thinking. I wonder how much a paper charm in your otherwise empty wallet helps when deciding whether it’s going to be heating or eating.

I come back to the same thought, over and over and over again. That if your problems are small, fixing them is easy. If you have resources – time, money, health, education, security, safety – then you probably can do much of what you want to do if only you believe in yourself. If you live in a country where your sexual identity is punishable by death, less so.

It troubles me because it sends such a clear message to anyone who can’t magically fix their life in five minutes. It sends a message of blame. You aren’t positive enough. Like attracts like, so you deserved it. The war. The injury. The bereavement.

I can’t bear how cruel that is. I hate the way in which it allows those who have a lot to feel no responsibility for those who have nothing. I hate how like attracts like thinking acts as an enemy to compassion. I hate how this whole attitude is a barrier to making real change. Not everyone can wish themselves out of their problems. Many people need actual help, real interventions, support, aid, care, food, heat, water… And not some smug, entitled git telling them it’s all about karma or that this is part of their life plan.