Thoughts on Compassion and Courage in a Difficult Age



“Courage and compassion are two sides of the same coin. Compassion without courage is not genuine. You may have a compassionate thought or impulse, but if you don’t do or say anything, it’s not real compassion.”

— Daisaku Ikeda

Like most of us, I’ve been so overwhelmed with the devastating loss of life in terrorist acts, both foreign and domestic. And I’ve again been disheartened by the lack of attention paid here in the US to the serious terror attacks happening outside of Europe or the US. And I’m very concerned about a political climate that seems to be fostering the worst of the racists, xenophobes, and haters, while drowning out the voices of reason. Whispering on the wind. That’s what it sometimes feels like.

“The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.”

— Robert Green Ingersoll

While I was trying to decide what to write, on this very broad compassion topic of courage, my 16 year old daughter suggested something about bullying, and the courage to stand up for others. And I, perhaps not very helpfully, made a comment about Donald Trump. Which led my, exasperated, daughter to ask “why is it always about politics?” My response was simply that Trump was a bully. Which is true. But I do see her point – gradually, as the election draws closer, and Donald Trump dominates the news, there seems to be just too much of it about.

The reality, though, is that, in the end, it’s always politics. Maybe not electioneering-type politics – not the politics that we think of when we think of the word. But the politics of life. “the total complex of relations between people living in society” as Merriam-Webster would have it. At the micro level this is what matters. And my daughter is right, compassion does compel us to act in the face of bullying. At school, at sporting events events, in social settings. We, as compassionate, caring, people cannot abide the abuse of others. And we do need to act. Acting on that can take many forms. Of course, personal safety, and the safety of other weighs into it – as does the actual circumstance. Sometimes observing, and reporting, is all that you can, or should do. Sometimes there’s opportunity to intervene directly. There is never one answer. But we should never ignore it when we witness it. It takes village to raise a child, and it takes a village to keep a village safe and secure. We all shoulder that responsibility. That’s what makes a community – it’s why societies form. And that is part of the courage of moral conviction that underlies our sense of compassion, and gives us the ability to act.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”
— Mark Twain

This cannot, however, be truly separated from Politics-with-a-capital-p. Our daily interpersonal relationships, and the smaller societies of our families, and our communities, are a part of the larger whole – our counties, our states, our country. We have responsibilities in all of those. And as citizens of a representative government, we have responsibilities that are, dare I say, political. We need to vote, yes, but more than voting, we owe it to ourselves, our children, and our country, to understand the issues – and to pay attention. In politics, and in life, there can be many correct answers. Very rarely does any one candidate, or any one party have everything right. But that’s okay, too – perfection doesn’t exist, and circumstances change.

“We habitually erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who’s right and who’s wrong. We do that with the people who are closest to us and we do it with political systems, with all kinds of things that we don’t like about our associates or our society.

It is a very common, ancient, well-perfected device for trying to feel better. Blame others….Blaming is a way to protect your heart, trying to protect what is soft and open and tender in yourself. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground.”
— Pema Chödrön

However, something feels different this time. The angry voices are not only getting louder, they’ve managed to convert others to their causes. And they are bullying – threats, intimidation, hateful rhetoric. And we, as compassionate, caring, people cannot abide the abuse of others. We are compelled to act. Society needs us to act. It seems overwhelming, but we need to continue to write, to protest, to attempt to educate others that there is a better way. That hate is never the answer. That walls, and guns, witch hunts, and religious persecution will not make us safe.

“Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.”

— Billy Graham

At all levels, the answer is the same – we need the courage of our compassion, and our convictions to drive out the bullying.

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
― Robert F. Kennedy




10 thoughts on “Thoughts on Compassion and Courage in a Difficult Age”

  1. Carol, we are definitely on the same page! I too had hoped we’d become too enlightened to go back but I am also concerned. While being a part of 1000Speak and Poets for Peace, it all feels like too little but at least, it’s something!
    Take care and best wishes,

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Gulara. It’s sad but true – history is littered with tragedies caused by the all too human tendency to blame the ‘other’. That’s always much easier than trying to fix it ourselves…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. thanks, Rowena – I’m appalled by what’s going on with the US election, and quite anxious about the trends I see in Europe (including the push behind brexit), Australia, the scary new Philippine president, and on & on – it seems to be spreading like wildfire. I know that political moods shift and swing over time, but I guess I’d convinced myself that we’d become to enlightened to begin leaping backwards. It’s discouraging, to say the least… 😦
    And thanks for the poets for peace info – now that I have a bit of a break in my ‘free’ time, I’ll definitely check it out & share

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Powerful post and I love the quotes. I think people shut down to pain and it’s hard to be compassionate from the place of dissociation. It takes a lot of courage and strength to be compassionate. Much easier to blame the ‘other’…


  5. Yes – and one of the biggest challenges we face is to not meet hate with hate – or to give in to the very human urge to strike back at the abuser – we have to be able to use reason & sense, with kindness, to try to address the issues that are driving the bully’s behavior. Pretty daunting, really, but no one has ever been truly converted to/from anything by force, so it’s essential that we find a way to not get dragged down too. I think that’s why education is so important – if we can start out learning, and living, with understanding, hate becomes harder.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I definitely agree that hate is not the answer and that walls, and guns, witch hunts, and religious persecution will not make us safe. You are right, we need courage to act with compassion, and to take action against bullying. I think, in doing so, it’s so important to retain compassion for even those doing the bullying, otherwise we become bullies too – which I guess is the point of the Pema Chödrön quote. I like all the quotes you’ve chosen, but that one is my favourite!

    Liked by 1 person

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