I asked a question recently on Facebook. The purposes of doing that were more than one, although some individuals seemed to struggle with the idea that a question might not really be asking what it appears to be asking – and what I mean by that isn’t to say that the question wasn’t asking what it appeared to be asking, rather that to these folks what it appeared to be asking was ALL that it was asking. It’s invariably in these times I find myself somewhat disappointed by the lack of depth people seem to be applying. I mean, in many discussions applying depth of thought doesn’t require MUCH effort and if people aren’t doing even that then why would I reason that they are employing depth elsewise in more “labor-intensive” areas of their own existences? It’s like, if you wont do the easy stuff why would there be any hope or expectation that you’ll do more than the easy stuff? The overwhelming trend among humanity in this regard is indolence. In addition to that, it’s apparently very very easy for side trails to nearly entirely derail a conversation or thought process. But whatever.
So the question I asked on Facebook (which is probably not the best choice of environments) was, “Is there a time when you can say to someone, ‘You’re not good enough and it’s clear you have no desire to improve. You have to go’ and that still be an act of compassion?”
The first round of answer-comments was exactly what I expected and amounted to something like, “Depends on the circumstance.” These people indicated that it’s okay to say such a thing – in the right environment like, say, in athletics or business. There was even one person, with whom I’m practically always at odds, who said it would be acceptable to say such a thing even in the context of personal relationships, although it should perhaps be worded differently. (That last bit was something I found very interesting: Apparently you can totally tell someone to go to Hell, but if you say it nicely, then it’s somehow more okay, more acceptable, more compassionate.)
The next round of answers definitely did more than scratch the surface. I think mostly because I commented, adding another layer to the question that involved recognition that people often identify with their own actions and are often identified by others according to their actions, and how poorly we tend to be able to truly love sinners while hating their sin. But in a way, even this second round of answers left me feeling like my real question was still being missed. The answers in this round of comments were noticeably, umm…. long-winded although a bit more intelligent. The answers received in this round of comments also left me scratching my head a little. The responses ranged widely. There were lengthy explanations about how it’s flat-out wrong to say something like that to someone because it could destroy their spirit, however you CAN essentially treat someone in the same manner if only you can justify it on your end. For instance, keeping your children from seeing their grandparents because of the environment they are associated with and which you want to avoid exposing your child to – that’s fine, but you just can’t SAY it to the grandparents because destroying spirit through words is apparently more damaging than when it’s done through actions. On the other end of the answer spectrum was one that simply stated something like, “Love doesn’t need adverbs.” (This was in response to part of the dialogue pertaining to “tough love.”)
One chunk of the conversation could probably have summed it all up. In this chunk I’d explained the mental associations made when we call a person’s actions sins and what that often means for our perception of the person doing those actions. A friend commented asking if it would be less judgy to call the sinner the “doer of the sin.” When I said I thought no, his response was another question, “What about hate the action not the actor?” To this I replied, “How does saying the same thing differently actually change what’s meant?” Which brought from him, “How are different words the same thing?”
It was right then that I did a face-palm. A rose by any other name is still…. A ROSE! No? Many times different words mean exactly the same thing. You can sugar coat, or use entirely different vocabulary. Dress it up any way you prefer. You can apply it anywhere always, or you can be as inconsistent as you want with how you apply this – but the truth is non-changing. Chances (overwhelmingly) are that if you are in any way judging the actions, you’re also almost certainly judging the actor.
To illustrate this: Gay people are quite familiar with how “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is the biggest crock of shit ever. Church leaders and politicians everywhere attempt to employ this in some form or another and the only thing that ever has resulted is judgment and discrimination. The church of my youth (specifically my old youth pastor), upon learning I’m gay, even told me, “There’s no place in the church or anywhere else in the youth for someone like you…” And then literally 3 seconds later advised me that I’m “welcome to attend worship anytime.” They stopped seeing me as a person when they learned that I’m gay and saw me only as a gay person – that is, they refused to know or accept me apart from my actions.
So how does this fit into the discussion about compassion’s role in telling someone they are not good enough, that you’re aware they have no desire to improve, and that you have to disassociate? It’s tricky, for sure and relates directly back to the notion of “tough love” which was touched on briefly during the Facebook comment thread.
I think, based on the comments on Facebook, that most people don’t really understand what tough love means until they feel they have no choice but to employ it, and it’s likely that even then they resort to all manner of mental gymnastics in order to feel more comfortable with it inside their own head.
Tough love essentially says, “This has to stop and it’s your responsibility – not mine – to not only make sure it stops but also to face the resultant karma.” It’s not very different at all from “you made your bed, now you lay in it.” The verbiage you choose matters not in the least. The truth is unchanging. What is, cannot continue and you – as a person – are absolutely linked to the actions in question. And if you – as a person – are inseparably linked to the actions requiring change, then it’s probably fair to say that you as a person are facing similar change, too.
I think, in truth, there IS a difference between the so-called sinner and his sin but for practical purposes here in our physical existence, the two are too closely related to be able to separate. For most of us, our actions are a direct extension or manifestation of who we are inside – or who we want others to think we are inside. Some people abstain from profane language because they are not profane on the inside or because they want their exterior, as seen by others, to appear as such. A friend of mine has told me that he prefers to almost always wear shirts with collars because in his mind it presents an image of “professional” and hints at what his income level might be or what he wants it to be. I, myself, tend to prefer more casual clothing because I’m a casual person and I want to seem approachable to others. Some women might never wear clothing that rises above their knees because they are modest or at least want to appear modest. Just pick something – excepting the advanced souls among us, most of us do most of the things we do either as a manifestation of who we are or to create the appearance of that.
With that in mind, I really think it’s impossible (from a practical standpoint) to separate the sinner/sin, actor/action, doer/deed. But that doesn’t mean telling someone something to the effect of “You’re not good enough and you’re not trying to improve and you have to go” is without compassion – even if it’s tough to grasp something like that as a compassionate thing. In fact, if you’re at all okay with the idea of loving the sinner but hating their sin then you’re essentially okay with the same because of our actions being an extension or manifestation of what’s within.
You can’t logically say, “I love you, I just don’t love what you do” because the two are very very intimately related. This is why I’m wondering if it’s not somehow simpler, cleaner, less drama-filled, and even more compassionate just to say, “You’re not good enough. You gotta go.” The compassionate side of tough love is to be placing the one this is being said to into a condition of self-evolution – the inner must change to have that reflected outwardly.
Sure, it cuts to where it’s needed REALLY quickly and perhaps not gently. But isn’t that what we’d all really prefer anyway and who says compassion is supposed to be gentle? After all, the alternative seems to equate pulling a Band-Aid off – one hair at a time. And I’ve yet to meet anyone who prefers that method.
Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha