I was talking with a new friend online a couple of days ago, and she echoed a sentiment that I’ve felt many times myself. She said (paraphrased):
“There’s a voice inside my head telling me that I ought to be compassionate, that I should be generous. When I try to hold healthy boundaries, this voice tells me to just give it all away, because that would be the good and nice thing to do.”
I have a similar voice in my head, too. It’s like an angel sitting on my shoulder, except it’s harmful instead of helpful. Because you know what?
The #1 block to compassion and generosity is obligation.
If you feel obligated to be compassionate or generous, then all your “compassion” or “generosity” won’t be true or clear. It will be tainted with guilt. Say that I do you a favor because I’d feel guilty for not being nice if I didn’t. Is that generosity? No! It’s guilterosity.
It’s like that time when a woman apologized to Kyeli because “Jesus told her to.” Kyeli didn’t perceive her apology as heartfelt because it seemed like she was doing it out of obligation instead of a true and clear desire to apologize. Hence, from Kyeli’s point of view, the apology was meaningless.
It’s the same with compassion. It’s the same with generosity.
Compassion is meaningless unless it’s heartfelt.
If you act “compassionately” because you’d feel guilty and feel like a bad person if you didn’t? That’s not compassion. That’s guiltassion! Look, it even has “ass” in it, because it’s an asinine thing to do. It also has “ion” in it, because it’s unbalanced. Electrically. Or something. Moving on.
Do you feel like you’d be a bad, selfish person if you didn’t act compassionately? Well, I believe that you’re not. I believe that you’re a human being, and human beings have self-interest and human beings also have compassion. Self-interest doesn’t have to be “selfishness” in the nasty sense of the word. It just means you’re concerned with your own well-being. Some people are wired to be concerned with their own well-being first and the well-being of others second. Some people are wired differently; for example a lot of moms place the well-being of their children above their own.
It’s okay to be who you are.
If you’re a compassionate person, be yourself. If you’re a selfish person, be yourself. If you’re a complex human being who doesn’t fit easily into categories, be yourself.
“But no one will like me if I stop acting nicely, generously, and compassionately!” you exclaim, frightened. Bullshit. I, for one, respect authenticity FAR more than guilterosity or guiltassion. I would vastly prefer that someone decline to do something nice for me (politely) than to do something “nice” for me out of guilt. Even if I couldn’t sense the guilt vibes, I would still prefer an honest no than a dishonest yes. Because that’s really what it is. It’s dishonesty. You’re acting based on how you feel you should act instead of how you want to act. And that’s just going to set up all sorts of dissonance and ick.
Still afraid to be yourself? You’re not alone. It’s scary. It’s scary to think that your friends might only like you because you do “nice” things for them instead of liking you for who you actually are, deep down inside. But if that’s the case, then FUCK YOUR FRIENDS. If they only like you for the favors you do for them, then they’re not really your friends at all. If you decide to be yourself, openly and authentically, warts and all, then you will find friends who respect, like, and love you as you truly are.
It feels like it’s not okay, doesn’t it? It feels like the sort of thing that you’re not allowed to do. So try this on for size.
You have my permission to not be compassionate.
Don’t want to help your brother with his move? Tell him no, and if he gives you the guilty eyes, tell him it’s okay, Pace said it was okay to not be compassionate.
Don’t want to donate to that charity? Tell them no. If they give you a hard time, tell them Pace said it was okay to not be generous.
There’s a video game I’m playing called Persona 4. Each of the characters has to fight their dark side, their shadow self — all the thoughts and feelings they have, but won’t admit to themselves. And yeah, there’s fighting, but the fighting just makes it stronger. Denying that it exists, saying “You’re not me!” is what makes it the strongest. And the only way to defeat it is to accept it as part of yourself. That’s when you awaken to your true power.
Real life is like Persona 4.