This bulk of this essay was curmudgeonly crafted on December 2, 2002 with some current updates added.
I have sometimes been described as “brutally honest.”
This could be considered bad.
I would agree that this would be bad, if I were to use the truth to intentionally hurt people in certain situations. For example, if someone were to give me a gift that I didn’t like, I wouldn’t go out of my way to tell them how much I hated it or how terrible it was. It is the thought that counts, and I would try to make the best of the situation. However, I also wouldn’t go on and on making up lies about it either — about how wonderful and perfect it was, if it wasn’t true. One distinction I make about “the truth” is whether or not it would make a difference to tell it and the harm or help that it might bring. I have less trouble pointing things out to folks if it’s something that they can do about it in that moment. You know – the spinach between the teeth, the toilet paper stuck to the bottom of a shoe… But if it is something that the person can’t fix in the moment – like a stain or tear or whatever, then unless they are showing off bits they don’t want to be sharing, I don’t say anything. There isn’t any point in making them feel bad or self-conscious about things.
So, I guess that I’m not brutally honest all of the time.
One place in life, though, where I have had to struggle, is this idea of compassion. I like to think that I am a compassionate person, and I think that I have gone out of my way to help those who have need. Folks who know me well, know that I subscribe to the notion that sometimes “Shit happens,” and thus people occasionally need help in dealing with what life deals them. I have always felt that it is part of who I am and of my religious beliefs — to help people less fortunate than myself.
But what happens when the misfortune to the person is a direct result of their own whims, wishes and desires? What if the bad things that are happening to them are a direct result of the choices that they have made? Where does my compassion lead me to in these instances?
I don’t know.
If you came on here looking for an answer to this one, I don’t know that I have it for you. For me, it always seems to come down to rationalization and the individual case – and I don’t know that that is necessarily a good thing, but that is all that I have at this time. And lest this whole discussion seem too intellectually “out there” I will use at least one specific example. You will probably disagree with some of my choices, but then again, I would be disagreeing with some of yours. So, let’s see how this plays out….and it is amazing how much guilt can play (unwittingly) into these choices if you really think about it….
It’s easy to act in a compassionate manner if a situation is caused by something utterly random or not caused at all by the person it is affecting. People who are hit by devastating weather conditions, an unexpected illness, a random accident. But unfortunately, that is not always the case.
I know a number of people who choose not to be regularly employed by other people (or necessarily self-employed, for that matter). For the most part these people either make their living off of their spirituality by selling goods and classes, or they simply don’t want to be bothered to be tied down by having a job where they have to be responsible to someone other than themselves. I can respect the fact that these folks have the right to make this decision. But there are consequences to this. What happens if they become sick and have no health care? What happens if their car breaks down? What happens if they happen to not find enough part-time, makeshift work to keep them fed in a particular season? What happens if they just cycle through money problems on a regular basis?
Now, let me preface this here…in this example all of these people to whom I am referring have employable skills and could hold down a full-time, good-paying job if they chose to. But they have decided that they didn’t want the bother, wanting the “freedom” instead. At what point am I obligated to support them as a result of my compassion? At what point are they obligated to make different choices so that others don’t have to take up their burden?
I guess I get a bit resentful. Alright, a lot resentful. I have what I have because I work a full-time job. I don’t have the time to do everything that I would like to do. I am earning retirement, disability, and have insurance. I have traded off a so-called life of “freedom” for the hope of some type of other security. I have done what I could to ensure that if something catastrophic happened to me or my family, we have done everything that we could to be self-sufficient.
Maybe that’s the crux of the whole thing. Self-sufficiency comes with certain amount of self-sacrifice. I don’t get to do everything that I want to do whenever I want to do it. I feel that these other folks make choices that are very selfish. They choose to do what they want, and then expect if something bad happens, that the rest of us are supposed to come in and cover their butts. But if I didn’t work as hard as I did, I wouldn’t have anything to help them with! Funny, how the reverse isn’t true. Those who choose to do what they want, also don’t have the resources to help others when there is a crisis. Often have I heard them fall back on, “Well, that’s sad, but I don’t have a job.” Or “We’re just getting by, I don’t have any extra to help.” Now isn’t that the ironic piece? Many of these folks expect help on a regular basis, but use the consequences of their choices to not reciprocate.
I know that this sounds bitter, and perhaps even selfish on my part. The classic act of compassion is to give without thought to oneself. Isn’t that the way that we have been taught? Am I supposed to judge whether or not a person deserves my compassion? So this begs the question on whether or not compassion is always deserving in all cases, and I have come up with the personal answer of “No.” We were given brains and I believe that we were meant to use them. I can differentiate between a person laid-off of a job and a person who chooses not to have one. I can give freely to help meet the needs of children in a poor home who need holiday presents despite the fact that their parents may have made terrible choices, because it’s not the children’s fault. I can make a difference in the life of women in the local battered women’s shelter who need supplies in order to help change her life situation. I can tell the difference in the needs of a family who are struggling with hospital bills because their child/father/mother has cancer and the person in the hospital with lung cancer because they chose to smoke 3 packs a day even when they knew it was bad for them.
I can’t save everyone. I have to make choices about where I put my resources and just who and what I support. Everyone makes these choices. And just because someone is a Pagan doesn’t mean that they automatically go to the top of my list. And although it should be my choice about how I support somebody in a time of crisis, it is interesting how I’ve been judged by others, particularly within the Pagan community, if I don’t give as much as people think I should – given the fact that I have a full-time job. It is an interesting twist in the comparative ethics of compassionate giving!
I have always believed that if you want something to happen, you better choose the actions that will have the consequences that you want, because it ain’t gonna happen any other way.
To those that have made poor choices and are living with the consequences of those choices, I don’t know what to say. Far from being the cold-hearted person that I may seem here, I have, believe it or not, actually supported some of these people. But what I have found, is that they have not changed in the slightest as they don’t learn any lessons from it! Once the current crisis is over, they go on making the same choices, bringing everyone, eventually back to the same place. It is interesting that these folks think that being compassionate is to give without expectations – regardless of the fact that they expect to be bailed out on a somewhat regular basis! In the face of this response, I can only believe that my supporting them is dysfunctional, codependent, ultimately not helpful and downright unhealthy!
So now I make choices, some different than I used to, and I have to live with the consequences of those choices. I will not fake things to make everthing seem wonderful. I will not spend all of my time stroking egos or pretending to be best friends with someone I hardly know. I now refuse to bail people out of the natural consequences of their life choices, even if it is personally painful for me.
If I seem too brutally honest, I guess then, that I too, will have to live with that. And I can too, since being brutally honest in the eyes of some folks simply means that I’m not a flaky, superficial person.
The most important thing to me is living a life of compassion — but not one of blind compassion. Can I live with the consequences? Only time will tell.