You must not hate those who do wrong or harmful things; but with compassion, you must do what you can to stop them—for they are harming themselves, as well as those who suffer from their actions.
Compassion and love are the foundations of a healthy spirit, healthy family, and healthy community. Yet, sometimes, we confuse compassion and love with codependency, indulgence, and self-neglect.
I recently had a particularly challenging moment with one of my teenage children. It was nothing out of the ordinary—your typical surge of hormones resulting in rage directed at me. Rather than reacting, as I often do, this time I stood back and observed. I looked at my red-faced child. I looked inside my own heart, and I felt deep compassion for my child, who had completely lost control. I silently repeated my mantra “age and stage, age and stage,” over and over, focusing on the breath, staying present, and waiting for the right moment, not sure what I would say or do.
While silently repeating my mantra, I suddenly thought of the “Stockholm Syndrome”, the psychological tendency of a hostage to bond with his or her captor. Why did this pop into my head? I had no idea. I was no hostage and my child was no captor. But, I believe everything happens for a reason, so I went with it. And what evolved in this self-inquiry of sorts revealed a great deal.
I saw that, in my desire to be compassionate with my child, to identify with pain, I was actually indulging certain behavior. It wasn’t only about me not wanting to be hurt, but about my child not having the opportunity to hurt. And by standing back and doing nothing, I was making it worse—for everyone.
I waited for a pause and with as few words as this wordy mother could muster I said that every emotion is valid but not every expression. “To hurt me is bad for you. You’re better than that, and we both know that.” I got a Mona Lisa-like smile and it was over.
I had never thought that compassion could be so fierce, direct, and strong. I had thought of compassion as soft and supple, and sponge-like. But the Dalai Lama so beautifully conveys that true compassion seeks an end to suffering—both for the person doing the harmful thing and for the person being hurt. This may require us to stand up and find our voice, to name the harm in our midst, and say, “this is not okay”. Sometimes this is the most loving and compassionate thing we can do.