Student: I'm interested in the idea of
idiot compassion that was in Ken McLeod's book [Wake Up To Your Life]", and wishing compassion for
someone who's doing harm to you or that you need to remove yourself from. How
do you differentiate the feeling of compassion and the need to remove yourself
from a damaging situation?
Pema: Idiot compassion is a great
expression, which was actually coined by Trungpa Rinpoche. It refers to
something we all do a lot of and call it compassion. In some ways, it's whats
called enabling. It's the general tendency to give people what they want
because you can't bear to see them suffering. Basically, you're not giving them
what they need. You're trying to get away from your feeling of I can't bear to
see them suffering. In other words, you're doing it for yourself. You're not
really doing it for them.
When you get clear on this kind
of thing, setting good boundaries and so forth, you know that if someone is
violent, for instance, and is being violent towards you to use that as the
example it's not the compassionate thing to keep allowing that to happen,
allowing someone to keep being able to feed their violence and their
aggression. So of course, they're going to freak out and be extremely upset.
And it will be quite difficult for you to go through the process of actually
leaving the situation. But that's the compassionate thing to do.
It's the compassionate thing to
do for yourself, because you're part of that dynamic, and before you always
stayed. So now you're going to do something frightening, groundless, and quite
different. But it's the compassionate thing to do for yourself, rather than
stay in a demeaning, destructive, abusive relationship.
And it's the most compassionate
thing you can do for them too. They will certainly not thank you for it, and
they will certainly not be glad. They'll go through a lot. But if there's any
chance for them to wake up or start to work on their side of the problem, their
abusive behavior or whatever it might be, that's the only chance, is for you to
actually draw the line and get out of there.
know a lot of stories of people who had to hit that kind of bottom, where the
people that they loved stopped giving them the wrong kind of compassion and
just walked out. Then sometimes that wakes a person up and they start to do
what they need to do.
Photo by Ana Elisa Fuentes.