When I was asked earlier this year to contribute my perspectives about the pursuit of compassion for a veteran and fellow yoga teacher’s blog, I immediately said yes–followed by “OMG! What does compassion mean to me?"
Like the nerd I am, I googled compassion and the first definition was “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others or to suffer together and feel motivated to help.” Next, I looked up pity and found it means “cause for regret or disappointment or as a verb to feel sorry for the misfortunes of.” Finally, I looked up sympathy, which means “feelings of pity and sorry for someone else’s misfortune or a mutual common feeling between people.”
Diving a bit deeper into compassion, sympathetic pity means “kind condescension to another’s situation without action.” Wow, that’s barely a surface level connection to another human being’s situation, so there must be more to the meaning of compassion. Expanding my research, I found that the definition of empathy is the vicarious participation in another’s situation. It seems that compassion can mean feeling bad for someone’s situation and not feeling motivated to help–or it can mean suffering together and feeling motivated to help alleviate the suffering. So confusing! Compassion is either feeling motivated or not feeling motivated.
Clearly, I was missing something, so I began to think about applying this to real life when suddenly, the Oscars aired and the “slap heard around the world” happened. Like almost everyone reading this, I personally don’t know any of the players, but I think it still applies to this discussion. Broadening my outlook related to the players in this scenario I looked at their roles relating to my favorite ancient philosophical text, the Bhagavad Gita.
This is an allegorical battle between our internal and external selves resulting in the understanding that if you live your Dharma, there is no Karma. Dharma means "your true nature, purpose in life," and karma is the "fallout of not living your dharma." In other words, when you live your dharma there is no karma. My hope for those in our Connected Warriors world, veterans and active-duty service members and their families, is for them to truly embrace their dharma with self-compassion so they can reduce karmic outcome.
Let’s start with Jada Pinkett Smith; she was the insulted party. Watching her face as the joke was made, she politely smirked–but then her expression changed to anger when she felt she was being “dissed” for her disease. When I saw that she was deeply offended, I immediately felt empathy because I too have been made fun of because of the way I look (non-white SoCal gal)–I have walked in those shoes. With the lens of dharma, Jada is a bad-ass woman; she is an accomplished heavy-metal rocker, wife, mother, and actress and her response was dharma-appropriate being the source of a joke.
Now let’s look at Will Smith; he was the one who acted out because his wife was the subject of a joke related to her disease. After being horrified and rewinding the video because I couldn’t believe that what I saw was not a set-up, I felt pity for him–he clearly responded from his gut and not his thinking mind. Will’s dharma response was inappropriate to his role as a man, award-winning actor, husband, and father. His karmic outcome was his resignation from the organization that hosted the event. Self-compassion means that he was able to see that his actions were not his truth, and he is now committed to finding that truth so he can truly “show-up” in a way that supports his dharma.
Finally, there’s Chris Rock. His joke was the reason why the slap happened and once I realized it was not staged–I sympathized with him and felt compassion for his resultant action. He kept his cool and continued with grace under very trying circumstances. Chris lived his dharma as a comedian, man, father, and husband; he delivered a joke and maintained compassion for Will by continuing to do his job on stage as a presenter–no karmic rebound for him.
When I turn the lens back on myself, this scenario reminds me that our words and actions matter. Part of my pursuit of compassion is to get in front of myself and have a sense of how my words or actions will land on another before it happens. Self-awareness is the key to this ability, so you are not only aware of how you think and feel, but you take it to the next level and apply it to others.
So, a final view through the lens at what happened with Jada, Will, and Chris–can you step in each one of their shoes and feel compassion for the others, as well as self-compassion? Jada for being the object of a joke, Chris for being the recipient of the outcome of the joke, and Will for reacting to the joke without conscious thought. Now can you be truly compassionate to yourself and another person’s circumstances and go beyond mere pity?
My last question for you to live in in 2023: Does one nonmindful act define you and your future?