compassion weakness

One of my favorite escapist action movies is Sword Fish. John Travolta (Gabriel) is the good baddie, the villain on a mission to change the world. Hugh Jackman (Stanley) is the bad goodie, the lovable rogue caught up in Travolta’s schemes. At one point Gabriel saves Stanley’s life but wants to keep him under his thumb. So he says, “Don’t confuse my kindness with weakness”.

It’s an interesting phrase. Apply it to your own, real life, situations.

Compassion is not weakness.

Compassion doesn’t mean being passive.

You can have compassion for someone without trusting them.

You can be compassionate AND keep healthy boundaries in place.

You don’t have to give up your own needs or tolerate bad behavior while being compassionate.

A woman (a student of Zen) was in India, riding with a friend in a rickshaw when they were attacked by a crazed man. He did no physical harm but verbally abused them. The woman was shaken and later asked her Zen teacher what the appropriate response to her attacker would be. The teacher said very simply, “You should have very mindfully and with great compassion whacked the abuser over the head with your umbrella.”

It’s not exactly the answer you’re expecting. While I’m not advocating violence, there is a reminder in the Zen teacher’s answer that compassion has many faces. One of them knows when and how to say “Enough!” If someone is treating you badly, THE most compassionate thing you can do for yourself AND for them AND for others who are likely being treated badly by the same person, is put a stop to the bad behavior. Don’t confuse kindness with weakness.

What do you do about the person you have to live with, work with, share space with who has hurt you? Compassionately set boundaries, give them a second chance to earn back your trust, and in the mean time keep a little guard up. Don’t confuse kindness with weakness.

I like the fact that it’s an umbrella in the story. We use umbrellas to protect ourselves from the elements. But there may come a time when someone has earned back your trust. When it stops raining, you can put the umbrella away. People change and grow. Compassion allows for change.

What is the role of compassion with the corrupt power brokers who know exactly what they’re doing and who they’re screwing over? Speak your truth clearly and compassionately. Compassion is all about the intention. This is another helpful story that speaks to this dilemma.

An old man was walking down the road. A horseman appeared out of nowhere and charged straight for the old man, so that he had to throw himself into a ditch just to save his life. As he clambered out of the ditch, he shook his fist at the horseman. He waved his fist and cried out, “May you be blessed. May your deepest desire be fulfilled”

A passerby was in shock. He said to the old man, “Why would you wish such a good thing for someone who nearly killed you?”

The old man answered, “If his deepest desires were fulfilled, he would have no need to run an old man off the road.”

There’s nothing wrong with shaking your fist at those who mean you and others harm. What’s your intention while you do it? If you do it with compassion, you can wish for them wellness and wholeness, because if they are well and whole they will have no need, and no interest in hurting you.

Author and activist Bell Hooks (Gloria Jean Watkins) said it well,

For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time REMAIN in Touch With Their humanity enough to believe in Their capacity to be Transformed.

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  1. Soul says:

    Ian, well done.  I often invite those who say to me,”Soul – you’re just too gentle.  People will take advantage of you because they think you’re weak!”to try being gentle – for an entire week to discover just how ‘strong’ one needs to be to be gentle.In gratitude I bow to all who challenge themselves to swim in compassion!

  2. ian says:

    nicely said Soul

  3. Eileen says:

    I’ve had to forgive my assaulter.  I have pity for him but it can also grow into a sort of compassion.  He is a confused individual.  This article will help me put things into perspective.  Thank you.

  4. Joy says:

    Thank you so much for these affirming words. I have often found that as I work with with others struggling to heal, it can be quite difficult to maintain my own boundaries and self care. It is quite easy to become overwhelmed with the issues and problems of others. Only a few months ago I needed to step back from the support of one whose bad behaviour was affecting me and many others. Even though I knew she had excellent professional support, it was a difficult decision., one I struggled with for some time! Looking back now I realise it was a positive step for me and an excellent opportunity for my own growth. Hopefully it will lead this person to look more closely at her own  patterns of behaviour  rather than  always blame others. I really don’t know!  But much as I had a sense that I had acted in the right way, your article affirmed my decision. It is too easy to feel guilt at not always being available to others. in the end we can be run dry. I worked long and hard to achieve healing and peace in my own life and I intend to guard that carefully! I read your article gratefully. Thank you!