"There are two different types of compassion. There is actual compassion, direct compassion, absolute compassion. Then there is the other kind of compassion that Mr. Gurdjieff calls idiot compassion, which is compassion with neurosis, a slimy way of trying to fulfill your desire secretly. This is your aim, but you give the appearance of being generous and impersonal." Trungpa Rinpoche
Thought-provoking quote, eh?
I posted on this topic a couple of years ago on another website. I felt compelled to revisit this topic after my own recent brush with idiot compassion. I've revised the original just a bit before reposting...enjoy!
During a conversation a couple of months ago with a dear friend, who also serves as an educator, I shared how burdened and overwhelmed I was feeling about a series of complaints from a group of students in one of my classes. They laid out a plea for relief as they shared how burdened and overwhelmed they were. Stories about very personal and serious issues that prevented them from meeting the course requirements were communicated with puppy dog eyes and soft whining.
Because reports abound of the extreme life situations and unprecedented competitive pressure put upon students in the university environment today, it was easy for me to feel an intense tug at my heart even though it was clear that blame was dripping from their lips and they were dealing out excuses like a skilled card shark. The pressure can be unbearable, but like me, you are probably asking, hasn’t college always been like this?
Although I was firm in my responses that they were responsible for the required assignments, intense feelings lingered. I felt that I was somehow letting them down, not being supportive, not really listening to their personal circumstances and providing some relief. I was actually feeling guilty for holding them accountable for “their” responsibilities. I had gotten so caught up in my unwarranted feelings of guilt that my vision was blurred; I was unable to see how I had allowed myself to become manipulated in the situation. I had started to believe that it was up to me to relieve their suffering. I began to ask, “Am I expecting too much”? “Should I revise a couple of the requirements”? Then my dear friend, in all of her wisdom, lovingly reminded me of the term “idiot compassion.”
She referenced our shared experience at a contemplative practices educator’s retreat where this phrase was introduced and expanded upon. I remembered the term and vaguely recalled the discussion. She tenderly reminded me that it was not my responsibility to relieve their supposed suffering. I provided a syllabus for them that outlined our contract for the semester and it was up to them to hold up their side of the contract. I deeply respect her and knew that this was exactly what I needed to hear. We chatted about it briefly and I hung up with a desire to do a little digging and expand my understanding.
I accepted the fact that I was guilty of showing idiot compassion, under the guise of compassion. The bottom line is that I was eager to relieve my own suffering.
Any attempt to relieve their supposed suffering would, in essence, fall under the category of idiot compassion.
This situation got me to thinking about so many other situations where we can find ourselves guilty of idiot compassion.
Whose suffering are we really trying to relieve in these cases? Isn’t it our own?
Compassion vs. Idiot Compassion: Compassion involves being openly engaged with others and a setting aside of the ego. Some time ago, I thought of compassion as: The right action at the right time in response to another’s suffering. Compassion deals with the essentials of a situation not with the extraneous. Compassion comes from a place of equanimity, a clear place from which necessity can be discerned. Idiot compassion, on the other hand is a result of self-engagement using another as a prop in our own emotional drama and for our own egoistic fulfillment. – Smiling Buddha Cabaret (2010)
I will leave it to you to mentally munch on the above quote and interpret it’s message to frame your circumstances.
When we show idiot compassion we deny others
the opportunities for great life lessons and growth.
Rather than do a substandard job of summarizing what I reviewed, I think it’s best to include the links below, then you can review these summaries in their entirety.
Visit the links:
Idiot Compassion and Manifestations of Idiot Compassion
(the second one is long, but I really benefited from the in-depth summary)
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