Compassion. It’s kind of a big deal. When societies place a high value on its members acting compassionate towards one another everybody benefits. So it’s not much of a stretch to think that if a culture places a high value on people being compassionate to themselves as well, everybody will be even happier, right? I don’t think so. In fact, I think compassion towards oneself is a horrible idea which leads to narcissism, generalized social dysfunction, and ultimately, the end of civilization as we know it.
Now, how could it be that something so valuable when directed towards others could be so catastrophic when given to oneself? Bust open that dusty-ass dictionary your Mammy gave you in the seventh grade and you’ll find that the definition of “compassion” is “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others”. That’s right. Others.
You see, when we do something to ease the burdens of others, we are being compassionate. We get the homeless guy outside our building a new coat, or pay for a single mother’s groceries when she isn’t looking. Compassion is the lube that keeps all the little gears of civilization from grinding together. But, when compassion is internally directed, too often what happens is we let ourselves stop doing the things for others that outwardly directed compassion compels from us because we have problems of our own. And worse, we grow to resent the problems of others because they take the focus off of our own suffering. Next thing you know, Al Sharpton is showing up organizing some protest rally tryin’ to get some gub’ment money and everything goes to Hell.
Now, too many folks these days confuse the idea of compassion with the vital and necessary skill of self-care, which is all about knowing your own mind and body well enough to provide the things you need to remain healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally. Not sleeping, over-eating, staying in abusive relationships, constantly worrying about the future; these are just some of the behaviors that happen when a fool doesn’t know how to take fucking care of themselves, and this shit doesn’t go down from a lack of compassion. In fact, people usually are in the process of showing themselves compassion when they’re busy staying in these sorts of broke-ass situations. If they stopped being so sympathetic towards their fucking problems, they might get the Hell off their asses and make some changes.
Change is a good thing. Sympathy and pity directed inward breeds a sense of helplessness in the face of adversity, paralyzing otherwise good and thoughtful people into inaction, stifling change. I’d argue that it is much better to set ever increasingly difficult goals in the quest for self improvement. In this way, we may indirectly better one another by climbing up one wrung on the ladder of personal growth and vacating the space beneath us.
So, the next time somebody tells you to show yourself some compassion, you should tell that hippie to go get fucked.