The insult of False Kindness, Part 3
I used to know this girl; petite and cheerful, of Asian descent. In particular, I remember one story about her: She was walking down the street one evening, happening to walk by some racist thugs. Totally unprovoked, they decided to have some fun with her, and began shouting out insults, spitting at her feet.
She ran home, straight into the arms of her brother, and cried her eyes out. He was a devout religious man, and after a few seconds of holding her, he told her that she should learn to forgive. Forgiveness was a virtue, he said. She should have learnt that by now.
She told me later that she stayed in his arms, simply because she had no one else to turn to. She said her brothers words stabbed her like a knife – in addition to the injury she had suffered, she felt like a failure because her heart wasnt big enough to forgive those men. But when her sister returned, she fled to her arms. The two were close; her sister silently held her tight and stroked her hair for hours until she stopped crying.
The insult of False Compassion
The value of understanding, the value of having been on the same path, is something that Ive always placed importance on. How can someone who has been through the same pains say something like that? Those were the words of someone, perhaps with kind intentions, but who had not been in her shoes; in fact, could not put himself in her shoes.
And therein lies the insult. Was her brother being religious, spiritual, or compassionate? Wasnt he advocating forgiveness, which is one of the greatest virtues we can have? Why did it hurt her, why did it feel like mockery?
To some readers, this might be an extreme example; to others, what he said would be mild. But how many of us have done the same? How much of our previous charity been a slap in the face?
Who can tolerate kindness like this? The people you help they hold their tongue, they swallow their anger – for they need whatever you are offering. If they didnt they might have shouted at you who are you to come here with your smug advice, and your holier-than-thou attitude?
I dont know much about history, about politics. And so I dont know if this is my place to say this. But this is something that struck me: How many wars have been started, because of this very same attitude? Each nation trying to force their point of view upon the other, each nation thinking they know what is best for the other?
And this is another reason we should first find the peace within, to work on ourselves. When we find the peace within, when we have conquered our own demons – then a truly compassionate response will be possible.
Practiced compassion – it is something that many people espouse, many people call beautiful. And there is nothing wrong with it. Practice Loving-Kindness, and let your ego and selfishness slowly disappear. And one day, youll find that compassion comes from beyond you – you are merely the instrument.
But until that day, until you can Love so deeply that the doer and the doing melt into one be very careful.
Rejecting the human
What is Compassion? What is Love? Love is simply the unconditional acceptance of the human being, just as they are. Love them for their pains, love them for their wounds and injuries, love them for their imperfections, love them for everything they do to make you angry.
In advocating forgiveness, her brother had simply ignored who she is. Forgiveness was on his mind, not her. A spiritual and religious concept had taken priority. A writer, I cant remember who, said it perfectly: He had pushed away the human in front of him, for the ideal – a mere concept! He was adding insult to injury; he was ignoring her emotional state, the way she was at that exact moment in time.
Kindness, forgiveness, and having a big heart – that was important to him, but not his little sister. Or perhaps he was projecting his kindness towards the people who had hurt her. He was trying to force his world views onto her, subjecting her to a “should”, one of the tyrannies of the human race. Forgiveness is a virtue, yes – but perhaps there is a time and a place when one should bring it up.
Am I condemning her brother? No, for his intentions were kind. But he lacked that understanding, he hadnt climbed the mountain within.
And so the confusion and resentment is there. If she stays, then it is because she needs the material help – she needs the hugs and love, so she grits her teeth and listens to his sermons.
How many of our charitable acts are like this? I have met many volunteer workers; they spent their spare time in foreign countries, freely using their skills to help and heal as many as they can. Many of these are the most gentle souls I have ever met; but many more also had a smugness in them. Were they creating the same insult, the same resentment? Were the people they were helping swallowing their pride, simply because they needed the food and the medical help?
The hidden ego
And this is always the hardest to admit. That I had been in her brothers shoes before, and perhaps I still am. That so much of my previous kindness had the same unintended insult to it. It is easy to say someone else has not Loved. It is easy to say other men and women have done the wrong thing, put out an insult with their kindness. But can we turn that to ourselves? It hurts, its a stunning realization to say that we – we – have never been kind, never been truly compassionate?
This is the other side of the same coin – in demeaning others, we are demeaning ourselves. We are boosting our own ego, for the joy of advising others is a very subtle function of the ego. How many times has this happened? Someone comes to you for comfort, crying, looking for a shoulder to cry on. You comfort them, and then you tell them what they should do.
And hidden in that advice, almost always, is the ego. It is almost impossible not to find superiority when we open our mouths to give advice. Ive been trying something new. Whenever someone comes to me in sorrow, I begin to comfort them as I normally do. But the moment I open my mouth to speak – I check for the ego, I make absolutely sure that there is no superiority hidden within. And then, there was nothing I could say. All I could do was to remain silent.
If I had spoken, though, it would have been a certain smugness disguised as warmth – see, if you have done it my way, if you had been more like me this wouldnt have happened to you.
Be very alert, and then you can see this in almost everything. In Part One of this series, I mentioned an argument I had with someone I had to work with. She had a sharp and venomous tongue, and she applied it liberally. I felt my anger arise, but I calmed myself down and responded to her in a very calm and polite manner.
But wasnt this the same? Forced calmness, forced politeness – it is no different, it was just pride in disguise. She was childish, argumentative, and immature. I was the grown man, and I certainly showed her how to handle business like an adult. How egotistical! In retrospect, I was just as childish and immature as she was. Whatever I judged others to be, so was I.
“What about your website? Arent you giving out advice?” you might ask. Yes, perhaps. Ive always seen my website as a journal of my own growth, and I have stated many times that I am not a guru, nor an enlightened master. Everything here is my opinion, not the absolute truth. The moment I become a master, my readers have become ignorant. They are no longer fellow travelers, theyve become something less, and that is something that I will never see my readers as.
But still, you might be right. This is another painful thing to admit, but there have been many times I have read my older posts, and shuddered to find shades of pride and stubbornness.
The unconditional acceptance
But what do we do? If we take the ego out of our responses, and we have nothing to say – what then?
Perhaps what her sister did was the right thing. She was there as a compassionate presence, she was present as a pillar of silent support.
She didnt react or feed her pain. Any reactivity will strengthen their emotions, justify their sorrow. Even disagreeing or agreeing with her is a form of reactivity. In A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle recommended the same: Be as present as you can. Listen to their every word without judgement or reaction.
This might go against conventional social skills: if someone is complaining about something, dont agree with them. Simply remain silent and let their sadness, their anger, run their course. It is true that if you agree with them, they might like you more, and that might be all you want. But in doing so, youve strengthened and confirmed their misery, their ego. Youre showing them that complaining works, or maybe youre building dependency.
Listen, really listen to what they are saying. In our heads, we are always formulating responses to their comments, we are always projecting our own issues on to them. Cease all that, and really listen. Be in a state of pure presence, and let their pain run out of steam.
Give help in the form of energy, of love. Let them be authentically themselves; not someone else. Let them become fully human, allow them to accept their humanity and their sorrows. That will be more powerfully transformative than any advice you can give. You might well know – how many of them will actually listen to what you have to say? How many of them will take your counsel and act upon them?
Naturally, this is not to say: Never help them. When you remove the ego, there is still very often an action or piece of advice you can give.
Find Love within yourself, and create a climate of Love and compassion around yourself. And then your mere presence will bring about healing.
A Group writing project
I recently participated in a group writing project. We had to write a blog post in a list format, and then submit it for voting. The winner gets a nice little prize. Out of the 67 participants, we had to pick 3 of our favourites, and post them here, each one counting as a vote.
I entered my recent blogging tips and rant post. And to be honest, I still dont know why it was so popular amongst my readers.
But anyway, here are my favorite three out of the master list:
The first, 35 Ways to increase your RSS subscribers, is a great list of marketing tips that will be a good read for many new bloggers.
The second, 8 Habits of Highly Successful Salespeople, is a nice list of things that everyone should read. Especially the first tip in the list: Being sold on yourself. If you have complete confidence that your product (or you, if you are selling a service or skill) is the best, that is half the battle already. Useful for everyone, including bloggers!
The last one I liked, simply because it gave me a good chuckle. I dont know if female readers will find it offensive though, it reminds me of those emails that get passed around: Why blogs are a female gender.
So there you go, my three votes. Now go and threaten Luciano with bombs and molestation if he doesnt award me first prize.