Fear, hatred, and suspicion narrow your mind – compassion opens it. – Dalai Lama
What does that mean?
This is one of his central themes, the building or presence of compassion. In this quote, he focuses on what happens within ourselves when compassion is present or absent.
In this case, when compassion is absent, he warns that fear, hatred, and suspicion can narrow your mind and make it even harder to be compassionate. It is hard to be both compassionate and afraid of something or someone? What about hating, is it compatible with compassion? And is suspicion any more compatible?
With compassion in your heart, it opens your mind to the possibilities of other people having other views and values, without having to be suspicious, fearful, or hateful of them. One will drive out the others, or the opposite will happen.
Yes, I believe compassion is that strong, if you can develop your heart and your mind to give it the strength to win out over the others. I believe it is a worthy effort, even if you can’t achieve perfect compassion (is that even possible in an imperfect world?).
Why is compassion important?
Compassion helps you push out fear, hatred, and suspicion by urging us to try to understand others. With understanding, you can live without having to fear, hate, or be suspicious of others. This differs from acceptance, you can understand bad behavior or abhorrent beliefs without having to accept them.
You still may have misgivings, worries, and concerns about what they are going to do based on your understanding of their behaviors and beliefs, but these are not in contradiction with compassion.
Compassion, when it flows both ways, is even better, as then understanding is also flowing in both directions. This mutual understanding, again, doesn’t imply mutual acceptance of beliefs and values, but does imply that you can (and are willing to) make allowances for their differences.
Where can I apply this in my life?
Consider a political view with which you don’t agree. Do you understand why someone might hold that viewpoint? Saying ‘because they’re stupid’ or ‘because they were dropped on their heads when they were young’ isn’t a valid answer.
A lack of education or experience might be part of why they believe what they believe or why they act the way they act. But this is an exercise in depth. Why do they believe or act that way? When you have that answer, ask ‘Why?” again. And again. And again.
Eventually, you will get to a point where you understand why they are the way they are (again, you don’t have to agree, but you do have to understand). Either that, or you have lead them to the point where they recognize that they need to dig deeper into why they believe, as they can’t even explain it to themselves.
However, that only works with people who have the intellectual honesty to understand that they aren’t perfect and that they may have an imperfect view of their world. I have dealt with plenty of people who were unwilling to admit that their views were anything other than perfect and complete. That makes me sad, but it is their life to live, and I must live mine as best I can.
It’s been a popular point of late to pick on people who are overweight. “Eat less” and “Exercise more” are commonly heard, usually in a less than compassionate tone. Have you ever considered why they might be overweight in the first place?
Many serious athletes continue to eat at professional levels even after they stop exerting themselves at professional levels. Sometimes it’s an extended down period, perhaps recovering from an injury, or they might have hung it up for good. Either way, the end result is more calories in than out, right? That’s a habit they need to break.
What about someone under a lot of stress, and who relaxes by eating. It sounds strange, but it does exist (speaking from first hand experience). This is similar to eating comfort food. Both of these are responses that are less than helpful, and need to changed, but they are more reasons why someone might end up larger than might seem appropriate.
While I have met people who have come to terms with their weight, most have said that they would be happier at a lower weight. That tells me that none of them are heavy because they want to be, that they made a conscious decision to be that weight. It’s alright to be grossed out by grossly overweight people, just understand that if they knew of a way to be less heavy that worked for them, they would be doing it.
There are dozens of medical reasons and many times more psychological reasons for people being over weight. There are also cultural reasons, socio-economic reasons, and a million excuses for being overweight. While the end result is easy to find, correcting it requires knowing the underlying reasons. But it’s easier to sneer, right?
This is obviously a trivial example. But if it is so trivial, why do so many people not have compassion for even such a trivial thing as a person who is overweight? How can you be compassionate for the big things in life, if something as trivial as someone’s weight is too much for you to handle?
Compassion isn’t always easy. But I believe it is necessary, both for the sake of others, but more importantly for your own sake. Where there is much compassion, there is little room for fear, for hatred, or for suspicion.
I work every day on my compassion. The progress is slow, but I am making progress. Are you willing to work on your compassion? I hope so, for the sake of you, and the sake of everyone else.