Idiot compassion is the highly conceptualized idea that you want to do good. But that doesn’t mean to say that you have to be gentle all the time. Your gentleness should have heart, strength. In order that your compassion doesn’t become idiot compassion, you have to use your intelligence. Otherwise, there could be self-indulgence of thinking that you are creating a compassionate situation when in fact you are feeding the other person’s aggression.
-Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
We’ve all done this. We convince ourselves that we are being compassionate. We are quiet. We turn the other cheek. We give our last morsel of bread. And sometimes this is what a situation requires.
But sometimes, as Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche says, we are feeding the other person’s aggression. What does this mean? It means that we are getting in the way of another’s growth by shielding them from experiencing the consequences of their actions. It means that we are actually helping them be unkind to themselves, to us, or to another. And, we are simply delaying the inevitable.
So how do we know what to do? How do we know whether our compassion should be quiet and gentle or firm and forceful?
We begin by looking deep within and asking ourselves what we are feeling and what uncomfortable feelings or situations we are ignoring or evading. Are we avoiding giving our time or money? Are we avoiding conflict? Are we avoiding seeing our loved one suffer? Those stuck places, those places where we feel the most uncomfortable, are where we need to look, and then perhaps, as Pema Chodron suggests, try a fresh alternative.
It’s not easy. These are hard decisions and there is no one answer. But these sometimes very painful situations give us the opportunity to uncover layers of unresolved and unintegrated material. Be patient with yourself. Be gentle and loving…one slow breath at a time.