The Dalai Lama is right when he tells us,“Be kind whenever possible” and “if you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
There is no doubt in my mind that kindness and compassion are the healthiest (and strongest) choices on the table. But being kind and compassionate is not always easy; nor is it always pain free. I would be surrendering my allegiance to honesty if I were to say I am kind and compassionate whenever possible, but that allegiance is under no threat when I say I try to be. And when I am not, and, on occasion, strike back in kind at someone who’s wounded me, I try as soon as possible to own it, apologize, and mean it.
There a few things I appreciate and value more in someone than their capacity for kindness and compassion. It takes no particular skill and little, if any, courage, to be cruel and nasty. It would also be unjust to universally define someone who’s been cruel and nasty as bad.
The online Webster Dictionary defines kindness as “the quality or state of being kind” and compassion as a “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Kindness does not mean you don’t hold others (including yourself) accountable for their choices. The goal is to do so with kindness and compassion. Not easy. Very hard, when responding to someone who’s just wounded you in a moment of anger (it is helpful to remember that anger often has sadness as its underpinning) and blisteringly hard when that someone is a person you love and care about.
There is a perfectly understandable question that deserves an answer. What makes responding with kindness and compassion the healthier choice when I’m the one who’s just been hurt? There is, I believe, a good answer. I don’t believe someone is having a healthy respectful relationship with self when they are lashing out someone in a hurtful way. In fact, I believe it is just the opposite. I think their internal experience of self is in fairly rough shape. In most cases their damaged self-image was not their doing. I know many (including me) who’ve lived through various forms of abuse, who’ve had acts of physical and emotional violence perpetrated against them. The struggle to rediscover and, in some cases, discover for the first time, that their truth is as valuable and good and beautiful as anyone on the planet is a steep climb to be sure.
Now, if you respond in kind, and wound them back, you are reaffirming their damaged self-image and strengthening its role in their life. If that’s what you really want to do, then perhaps you’ve got some work to do on yourself; there’s no shame in that. If it isn’t, please consider this. During the time you are responding with kindness and compassion you are sending the following message to the person. You see their value and worth and you are not defining them by their behavior.
While we are not responsible for the abuse and violence perpetrated against us in life, we are responsible for healing from it, and we are responsible for the choices we make as a result of it.
As for the few who think it is an act of weakness to respond with kindness and compassion, let me pose the following question. If it is an act of weakness to respond with kindness and compassion, then why is it so hard to do?