Learning how to be compassionate on an emotional level opens our heart to really listen beyond our own ethnocentric myopia. We learn to appreciate more of us and less of I.
A few days ago, I was visiting Vancouver’s various neighbourhoods when my mind drifted to a quarrel I had recently with a dear friend. Though already a solved case, I mentally replayed our disagreement to see what else I can learn from it.
From concrete to abstract, I sifted through piles of emotion-laden adjectives to assess reasoning. I deconstructed motives, blind spots, values, and implications as how it has always been done. Only this time, I was overwhelmed by a sense of futility.
It was a sense that, while a rational approach is useful in analyzing conflicts, something important was missing – the feeling of emptiness despite a winning debate, discontinuity despite consensus.
Then, a word came to mind: compassion. That was the missing piece.
Compassion is the empathy we have for the imperfection of others and ourselves; it is the capacity to empathize with those at fault. We empathize not from a moral high ground, but from the humble recognition that we are ourselves imperfect, in debt to those we have wronged knowingly or unknowingly.
In fact, we may not always be right. Compassion results from being aware of the limits of our understanding. It is the realization that we can never directly experience another person except for our interpretation of that person. We cannot be certain that, if put under similar situation and upbringing, we would act differently.
It is particularly important to have compassion when traveling to places with unfamiliar cultures. Learning how to be compassionate on an emotional level opens our heart to really listen beyond our own ethnocentric myopia. We learn to appreciate more of us and less of I. We become better at avoiding facile moral judgements.
Blaise Pascal points out in Pensées, “the heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of…We know the truth not only by the reason, but by the heart.” Compassion is not deduction; it is not circumstantial. It does not require us to like those who wronged us, but it does put the transgression, and ourselves, in perspective.
Filling our hearts with compassion relieves us of the burden of hatred and vengeance. It rinses our soul with humility and gives us the courage to forgive. It gives us the strength to love.