I feel like it can be difficult to wade through all the information that’s constantly being thrown at us, and determine which way to go on this one. Of course, it seems right and good to be compassionate and caring for others, with most good role models we identify embodying these qualities.
But at the same time, we hear a lot of advice telling us to be our own person, to do what we want and not what others want us to do. "Don’t be a sheep".
So how to we fuse these two suggestions together? They both seem fairly sensible, but they're also entirely contradictory.
The Dalai Lama focuses heavily on compassion, and this is to be expected, given the fact that ‘karūna’, meaning compassion in Sanskrit, is the single most important principle in Tibetan Buddhism.
But if we remove this doctrinal bias, how should we, from a Western, and not necessarily religious or spiritual viewpoint, view compassion?
In an ideal world, I feel like the obvious answer is for everyone to be compassionate. No-one pursues selfish ends, and we all help each other. That sounds pretty hunky-dory, right?
But in reality, if you’re always serving others and putting your own goals and desires at the back of the queue, then because the world isn’t perfect, you’re inevitably going to get pushed around and stepped on a lot.
What’s important to remember about any Buddhist teaching, is that it should always be seen as a means to an end, an answer tailored to a specific problem. Buddhist teachings are actually, when it comes down to it, fairly flexible, and are dependent on the person who is practising. They are designed for individual predicaments, and are not necessarily to be treated as universal, objective truths.
So really, I think the teaching of compassion vs self-satisfaction depends entirely on you. For an egotistical person, lets say, oh, Kanye West, perhaps, it would be suggested that he should try his best to hone his sense of compassion. By contrast, for the kind of person that feels constantly trodden on, and is pushed around by others, then it would more likely be advised that they focus their energy on building a sense of self and self-esteem.
As is often the case in philosophy, it comes down to this idea of there being a middle way. Compassion is the goal, but this is something caught between the vices of being weak-willed, and being egotistical. There is a happy medium.
I feel like if we concentrate our efforts on genuine compassion - the will to help others, to bring happiness to other people, to love others - in a purely abstract way, then I don’t think there is any reason it should necessarily be coupled with the idea of this happiness coming at our own expense. There is room to be compassionate, and to also have your own voice and follow your own heart.
For me personally, this is something I find quite tricky to navigate. Often I think we should be entirely selfless, but then it’s hard to do this without some resentment forming and a general feeling that we’re just pandering to other people all the time.
By the same token, I think it’s difficult sometimes to do what you want, without feeling guilty, because sometimes what you want, for your career, for your life, isn’t what the people around you want. But we’ve got to separate this idea of pursuing what you want in life, from simply being compassionate, and being kind and caring to those around you.
“It's like you're always stuck in second gear
When it hasn't been your day, your week
Your month, or even your year”
I chose this song, ‘I’ll Be There For You’, because it’s fun and it just gives me such a good feeling when I hear it. I obviously associate it with Friends, a show that always brings a lot of warmth and humour, and I think the general message of the track is really positive and uplifting.
“I’ll be there for you, when the rain starts to pour
I’ll be there for you, like I’ve been there before”
It feels quite laid-back too, which just gives me that gentle reminder not to overthink this idea of compassion. It’s just about trying your best to be a good person at the end of the day, and you might not succeed in every aspect of this - but we’re only human. Don’t get too caught up in the philosophy and ethics of this - just try and be as compassionate as you can, and really try to help those that need helping. After all, often when we make those we care about happy, this directly contributes to our own happiness too - so it's a win-win.
Which song are you choosing for today?