Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism.
Hubert H. Humphrey
The headlong rush to the “I’m all right Jack, sod you.” culture, began in earnest in the 1980s with the rise of the Yuppies and the “Greed is good” mindset. Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at that time, famously stated that ‘There is no such thing as society.”
And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no governments can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours.
The opinion that she expressed in this speech is chilling in its content. A call to put the self ahead of the rest of the world. A siren call to Ego that was reflected back by Ronald Regan the then President of the United States.
This world view, as expressed by the leaders of the western democracies, helps to explain the shift in mentality seen in much of the western world. A mentality that lies behind a gradual drift to Individualism and Nationalism that has contributed so much to the current turmoil in the world. Not least to the increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots, and where difference is seen as dangerous.
A world view that divides people into two camps, us and them. Fortunately this view is now being challenged by new generations.
Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By putting our interests first, with no regard for others, we erase the very thing that a nation holds dearest, and the thing that keeps it alive: its moral values.
If Margaret Thatcher is taken literally, she is saying that governments, that is the people in power, should act in their own interests first and only put those of the people they were elected to serve second.
A prophetic utterance if ever there was one.
The final result has been the alienation of many citizens from the societies in which they live, and a rise in xenophobia and Nationalism..
Never criticize a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.
Native American Saying
The counterbalance to this is to develop a compassionate mindset. If we work to understand and appreciate the other person’s point of view and their life circumstances, we put ourselves in a position to help both them and ourselves. The scientific research suggests that being compassionate is good for us.
Compassion should not be confused with pity, an emotional state which emphasises the difference between the two parties.
In many ways compassion becomes a shared experience that allows us to focus on what we hold in common. Triggering a desire that others, as well as ourselves, should be free of suffering and its causes. As one definition summarises it..
‘Compassion is’…being sensitive to the suffering of self and others with a deep commitment to try to prevent and relieve it.
The Dalai Lama
Compassion is not only being open to another’s suffering, but also needs to be directed to the self. We all suffer in different ways, and compassion helps us to reflect on this and make an appropriate response. A positive mindset which is of benefit to ourselves as well as others.
The western world has developed a society in which many people have a very low opinion of themselves. Focussing on what is wrong at the expense of what is right. A world in which anxiety and depression have become a normal part of many people’s lives.
Developing a compassionate mindset allows us to reverse this situation. When we develop an understanding of the causes and effects that are at play in our own lives we can address them more easily, and so become better placed to understand and respond to others suffering as well.
Once we understand our own circumstances, and observe our habitual responses, we can act out of that changed mindset and become a positive influence in our world.
The good news is that the more you practice compassion the easier it gets.
Fake it until you make it.