“Idiot Compassion”

This is a conversation the little mouse living in our basement scribbled down:

“Darling, did I gain any weight?”

“Yes, I think so.”

Well, I had asked. But still. Gasp.

One of yoga’s catchphrases is ahimsa, the concept of not causing harm. Even if you’ve never had a class of Sanskrit in your life, you’d likely be familiar with it. Nowadays, it’s almost a buzzword and practitioners subscribing to the concept will not only include other human beings but animals and, why not think big, mother nature. Don’t do or say anything that will harm anyone, directly or indirectly.

Darling, you're stating a fact!

Darling, you’re stating a fact!

As yoga has developed a more competitive edge, the word ahimsa has frequently been dropped in a conversation about someone’s practice (as in: don’t do full splits if you’ve started yoga yesterday) and has taken a new dimension: Not causing harm to your own body. The idea, of course, is that there’s really no point in being compassionate with every man and his dog – but not ourselves.

So far, so good.

Now, there’s yet another entirely different dimension entering the room, slamming the door and making the window glasses clink. We look up, in disbelief. The troublemaker cries out, with an edgy voice: “Compassion is idiotic!” It’s an utterly fascinating concept and totally worth exploring. It’s not really new, but even old ideas are worth sharing if they’re great.

The term “idiot compassion” has been coined by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and the quickest way to get your head around it is this explanation by his student, Pema Chodron:

It refers to something we all do a lot of and call it compassion. In some ways, it’s what’s called enabling. It’s the general tendency to give people what they want because you can’t bear to see them suffering.

Interestingly, if being “compassionate” requires dishonesty, it’s not about the other person. It’s all about us. It’s about how we feel. It’s about avoiding the difficult path, administering the bitter medicine that would allow the other one to make a change, to move on, to reflect.

But we don’t want them to feel good, even if that’s the result. We want to feel good ourselves. And this is the cause.

So what if telling the truth, upsetting our friends, families, loved ones, was actually the compassionate thing to do? And what if they knew with certainty that they can rely on our honest feedback? Who cares about a wobbly ass, but how about the major things in life?

Honesty is hard to stomach. But stuck between a rock and a hard place, at crossroads, when it’s time for major decisions – I’d prefer honesty to flattery.

How about you?

~ Andrea

Read on here and here.

12 replies »

  1. An act must be completely selfless to also be compassionate. Selfless does not have to mean holding others back or denying a part of the one’s self in order to better another’s situation. Simply creating a situation in which the best likely outcome can come forth. It has to take into consideration both the present moment and all possible outcomes moving forward with the best available rational (not emotional) option. Compassion to self and others takes a little bit of knowledge, understanding/ acceptance, bravery, honesty, and selflessness, One can not overpower the others or else harm can occur either to the self or to others, just have to test the waters with each situation, commit fully, and know that each situation and moment requires a different balance but as long as we make the best attempt each time we may just find we’ve been practicing the cultivation of ahimsa all along.

    I really enjoyed this post because it does bring up the contradicting points within this yama. Above is just how I’ve approached it to be able to not just understand on a basic fundamental level but to also bring it into day to day actions. Super excited to check out more of your posts!


  2. This is the first post I’ve read from your blog and I can’t wait to keep reading! Very insightful message – and something that I think we all struggle with from time to time.

    PS – thanks for taking a look at my blog today! Best Wishes!


  3. Great post! 🙂 I think lying to people or giving them what they want just to relieve suffering temporarily isn’t very helpful. To me, compassion sometimes means telling people something they don’t want to hear because it will help them grow. Of course, it’s important to do that in a loving and compassionate way! 🙂


  4. Great post, Andrea. Certainly food for thought. Perhaps when we think we are being compassionate we should stop and question our true motive. Then there is less chance of it being ‘all about us’. Being ‘cruel to be kind’ or ‘tough love’ – easier said than practiced yet most of us would probably prefer that to being lied to.


  5. Ah the double edged sword…honesty vs flattery. I agree I like honesty but sometimes it really hurts to hear it from someone you love. I’m not great at the honesty thing about other people as I really hate to hurt people’s feelings…but I’m working on both of them 🙂 thank you for such a thoughtful post Andrea ~ Lakshmi x


  6. Another translation for Ahimsa is “love.” When we love we can only speak the truth, and true friends and loved ones are the people who do not lie/tell you the things that are difficult to hear but are there by your side. Namaste _/l\_


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