The dogma of compassion
18 September 2012 4 Comments
Not many would deny that compassion is a virtue. Some would even say it is the opposite of dogma. On a fundamental level, that is true. Yet it is possible for compassion to become dogmatic when it is defined too narrowly, and begins to take on a form of brutal piety.
I had this bizarre exchange with a friend recently. Here’s how it went. The details have been altered slightly but the form is essentially the same.
Friend: Hi, how’re you?
Me: Not too good. I’ve just had some bad news… [I was about to explain that someone I was close to had died, so I was feeling particularly fragile.]
Friend: Hey, you know, my bunions are giving me trouble again. I could barely do my shopping at the supermarket. I was hobbling as I pushed the cart. Even the old ladies were giving me funny looks. [The said bunions had been the topic of many a dreary conversation for several months.]
Me: I’m sorry, but I can’t really talk about your feet today.
Friend (defensive and irate): Don’t you care about my health!? Where’s your compassion?
True story. The more I tried to explain, the more ridiculous the conversation went.
Friend: Don’t you care?
Me: I’m really sorry. It’s not that I don’t care. Something happened today …
Friend: Caring is caring! Either you care or you don’t!
Me: Are we really having this conversation? Can I talk to you about my day?
Friend: Look, let me ask you 2 questions.
Friend: 1. Are you physically injured?
Friend: 2. Have you lost your job?
Friend: 3. Has your house been flooded or burned down?
Me (frustrated): That’s a third question.
Friend: You’re incredible! And you call yourself a Buddhist?
Me (verging on the distraught): What was that about?
Friend: If you answered ‘no’ to any of those questions, then you’ll survive!
Did I somehow land in Bizarro World? Had I been abducted by aliens, or mind-altered? At the time, I felt blindsided and distressed, but in hindsight, I wonder if it wasn’t a case of severe me-ism or undiagnosed bipolar disorder (no disrespect to genuine sufferers). This is from a person who publicly describes themselves as ‘Very Compassionate’. Yes, spelled with the capital letters like a badge or a label, followed by ‘And I expect you to be the same’! Truly a farce worthy of Dickens. Though caught up in it as I was, it was probably more like suddenly being swept into a Chekhovian universe.
Needless to say, the relationship didn’t survive Pluto’s station direct.