against indignation

compassionIn January 2015 I attended some training in teaching skills that was both thorough and helpful. It was a pressure cooker of a course, high on intellectual and practical demands and a little short on emotional care and reflection. At the end of the course, one of the other students said to me, ‘You know, I really appreciate what you taught me.’ I felt a little burst of self-regard—she must have been impressed with one of my newly acquired teaching strategies! She went on, ‘You said something on the first week that has stuck with me and helped me cope with this course.’

‘What was it?’ I was curious.

She smiled at me, ‘When we were all getting het up about something, you just said to me, “Practice compassion not indignation.”’

I had to admit to her that the aphorism was borrowed although I can’t remember where I read it or heard it. Maybe it was through one of the helpful reminders that I have organised in my life: the Daily Good email that I read well, not daily, but once every so often, the weekly message from On Being, the seasonal emails from the centre for courage and renewal. Perhaps a friend had passed on the notion from something encountered in a book. Whatever the source, it’s an idea that I want to make habitual. Indignation and outrage are easy and we have ample opportunities to indulge them. We can ‘like’ pages of political or personal criticism with their exclamation marks and bold headlines. We can ‘ahem!’ or gasp at the goings-on of our leaders, co-workers, and even our friends. The indignation may be masked with a satirical edge. Yet, there is something complacent about outrage. We puff ourselves up a little at our undoubted superiority, lift a supercilious eyebrow at someone else’s incompetence, and then do what?

Rather than indignation, I want to feel concern, care or compassion for the individual who is compromised and whose behaviour may indeed be outrageous. Then I want to be guided towards whatever action is suitable, that feels right for me. I can’t support every cause, every concern, but I have a sense that there are particular ones which depend on my support. And that support will probably require more action than to simply tick the ‘like’ button, or gossip about it with my mates. I will usually need to do something, some small or large action which may make a difference; often we can’t exactly work out how. I have a friend who joins with others to make craft to support asylum seekers. Another friend is keen on speaking truth to power and tries to find helpful ways to do that. These small actions go beyond outrage and spark the huge or tiny actions that contribute to the possibility of a more compassionate and peaceful world. So, I’m watching out for those times when the particular delight of outrage threatens to consume me and I’ll try to choose care and compassion instead.

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