Selective Compassion

I heard a great phrase today: selective compassion.

These words resonate with me for a couple of reasons. First of all, I have to admit that I’m guilty of selective compassion. I have a strong tendency to identify with those I feel are innocent victims of circumstance—children, the elderly, animals, etc. Compassion for the innocent comes easily and naturally to me. I am far less inclined to feel compassion for grown adults whose circumstances are purely the result of their personal choices, however. This is perhaps most evident in my lack of compassion for The Ex.

The second reason selective compassion resonated with me today is because my last two blog posts were met with highly irrational and verbally abusive responses from an angry reader. This reader left a long, rambling response to one of those blog posts. I moderate all initial comments from readers, and I chose not to approve this particular response for publication because I don’t feel it adds any value to the conversation. I did respond to the comment privately, however, and my reply was met with more bitterness and hatefulness. Among other things, this angry reader (who is not The Ex, in case you’re wondering) accused me of being a narcissist and a lousy parent.

Being the introspective sort, I’ve given a great deal of thought to these accusations. I’ve examined them from every angle in order to determine if there’s any truth to those remarks. Although I’m far from perfect, I am definitely not a narcissist. On the contrary, I was consistently cast in the role of Echo to many a Narcissus prior to meeting my husband, Matt. My attraction to men who couldn’t love me was actually the subject of many therapy sessions during my late 20s and early 30s. Even though I know I’m not a narcissist by any stretch of the definition, being accused as such stung nonetheless.

As for the quality of my parenting, I’ve questioned this myself in an earlier blog post. I am nowhere near perfect in that role, either. I have so much to learn, and I’ll be the first to admit that I struggle with parenting daily. It’s easy to believe that I am a “lousy parent” because I already doubt myself in that regard, but it’s much too early to make any firm conclusions about my parenting. I’ve only been a full-time parent for just over one year, after all. By all indications, however, my husband and I seem to be doing a pretty good job thus far.

Over the course of the past year, our daughter seems increasingly happier and more confident. She’s blossomed socially and makes friends more easily than ever. She went from testing a full grade below her current level in math to testing a grade and a half above her current level. She’s found an outlet for her passion for music in the cello, which is in turn helping her develop the ability to commit to goals and the work ethic to achieve them. It’s impossible to say at this point how successful my daughter will ultimately be or how much of her future success can ever be attributed to my influence. It is reasonable to conclude, however, that these are not the sort of results typically achieved with lousy parenting.

As I’ve processed these deeply personal and hateful attacks on my character, the most dominant emotion I’ve felt toward my accuser is anger. Today, though, I realized that selective compassion is what allowed that anger to take root in the first place. The moment I recognized myself as someone who doles out compassion discriminately, the anger dissipated. Likewise, the moment I recognized selective compassion in my accuser, her words lost any power to hurt me.

The next time someone tries to provoke you, ask yourself where compassion fits into the picture. Are you choosing to forgo compassion by engaging in their drama? Are they choosing to forgo compassion with their provocative words or actions? Chances are, the answer to both questions is a resounding yes. That is certainly true in my experience with the Angry Reader.

I don’t know how consistently or universally I can really expect to feel compassion for others, but expanding the depth and breadth of my compassion is something I plan to consciously work on now that I understand how quickly and easily compassion neutralizes drama.

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