I often speak to groups about the value of compassion, offering what I call the business case for compassion. I passionately believe that bringing more love and connection into our lives, businesses, and communities is what will change our planet for the better.
One belief that seems to surface when I talk about compassion is the notion that compassion is soft, is yielding, is about giving others what they want. I’m often asked a variation of: “What should we do if we can’t give someone what they want, how can we still show them compassion?”
Compassion isn’t about giving people what they want or about being ‘soft’. Compassion does require us to open to our feelings, to be vulnerable and not shy away from the messy stuff that exists in our relationships with others, but there’s nothing soft about that. Pema Chodron, the Buddhist teacher, talks about “leaning in” to discomfort in order to access our compassion. I don’t see that as soft or acquiescing. In fact, I see it as fierce.
Compassion requires us to be fierce because it means we have to see things as they are and see ourselves as we are. There’s nothing weak about gazing unflinchingly at what hurts others or hurts us while still being able to remain open and loving. It requires a warrior’s heart.
Embracing fierce compassion means being willing to be open to pain, messiness, and fear, and to still find love in our hearts when we experience those things. In particular, fierce compassion shows up when we can offer love and acceptance to ourselves when we see our own underbelly. This is where fierce compassion starts. We can’t offer it to others when we’re walking around judging ourselves for every implied fault or weakness.
Fierce compassion also means offering honesty about what is with deep empathy. This can take the form of telling a friend the truth about the bad relationship they are in, or telling a coworker why they didn’t get that promotion, or telling ourselves why we keep turning to our favorite numbing behaviour – TV, food, booze, spending – instead of facing the pain we feel. There is no compassion in allowing ourselves to keep ignoring the truth, no matter how painful it may be.
The place where our observation turns from judgment to fierce compassion is when we can see and speak the truth but still access our immense capacity for love and acceptance. When we can face the messiness of our shared human experience with graciousness and equanimity. When the mirror we hold to ourselves and to others is held with deep love and kindness. This is the heart of fierce compassion, the starting point of our true strength and courage in the world.
Some fierce compassion reflections for you to consider this week:
Where do you avert your gaze? What areas of your life or your feelings do you tend to shy away from?
What do you most need to forgive yourself for?
Where can you be more impeccable with your honesty by saying what needs to be said, with compassion?
As always, I’d love to hear what you think, so please share a comment or post a thought on our Facebook page.