Compassion can make us more effective in our work – and happier

Apr 06, 2011 Published under Introspection, Life

Susan Colin Marks is one of those rare human beings whose presence in ANY context invariably enriches the experience of ALL involved.  Stunned at seeing how she always managed to have a positive attitude, even vis a vis people that others would find unpalatable to interact with, I asked her how she handled situations where an ordinary mortal would consider a counterpart to be annoying, self-righteous, or even unjust and inhumane.  She shared that her secret is to build a reservoir of compassion, and that whenever I found myself judging others for being too self-centered, or unjust to others, I would need to reach into that reservoir and try to understand that they may be behaving that way out of insecurity, or other limitations in the human spirit that probably made them who they are, and reduced their happiness.  I should feel for them.  At the beginning I semi-dismissed this as New Age California talk. But I tried it when I felt negative reactions towards others and it worked marvels. 

Now, living life the way Susan does is not easy. It will take a ton of work to get even remotely close, and to even hope this mindset becomes instinctual. But to the extent you can incorporate this thinking tool into your internal kit, it definitely can make you happier and more effective. 

I do still wonder if injustice should always merit compassion.  Is an outright lie or evil behavior worthy of it? Should your compassion help you reach out to those people? Or should you channel that indignation to energize your work and fight that injustice? Since I was a kid, and living in the shadow and the memories of the Holocaust that my Dad went through, I find that when I notice someone be unfair to another, it inspires my action to help.  But also I have found that it repeatedly angers me and saddens me, sometimes to the point of being emotionally draining beyond belief.  Do you accept those feelings and welcome them as a sign of your moral compass? Or are they a reflection of imperfection and judgmentality? 

My assumption is that, sadly, there are at least some people who are so devoid of a human soul that they may not merit “compassion” as it will delude us into thinking that they can be negotiated with and they can be very dangerous to the world.  People like Hitler or Ahmadinejad.  They need to be contained, confronted, and opposed with all moral fiber and all necessary efforts.  I don’t personally subscribe to pacifism because my Dad would not have been alive if the Nazis had not been fought.  Sadly, the use of force in some cases is tragically unavoidable. 

But those people are probably an exceptional rarity.  Most human beings will go their entire lives without crossing paths with people that truly do not merit compassion.  In the overwhelming majority of cases, compassion towards people you don’t like or appreciate can probably make you a more effective leader, and a happier and more positive person.

And I assume Susan would probably find compassion for all, even for those I dismiss as beyond the pale.  What is your answer?

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