When I was first thinking about what I would want to write for this blog, I realized at some point that I would need to talk about the idea of being compassionate for oneself. I didn’t want this to be one of the earlier posts because the importance of it was only something I’ve recently internalized (and it also strikes me as being incredibly self-indulgent, even more so than this blog is in the first place). However, shortly after my initial posts I fell into small period of what is probably a bit of depression (I write “probably” because it is not always easy for me to tell when I am depressed and when my heart is stressed in other ways), which is why there has been such a gap between posts. I don’t want to write about depression now, but in climbing out of this dark period, I was reminded about the importance of loving yourself.
There are a few ways of arriving at the conclusion that having compassion for oneself is paramount to a compassionate life in general. The one that has been the most effective for me I might almost call a pragmatic argument. Compassion is a type of love and so best and most effectively expressed from a place of joy. A heart that does not love itself cannot truly possess joy and so cannot love well, and is limited in its ability to exhibit compassion. So, it must be the case that any deliberate effort at compassion towards others must begin with an honest effort at being compassionate towards oneself.
There is also more “theoretical” arguments which I can imagine various reformulations of, but the basic format is the following:
- It is a moral imperative to treat with compassion anything that is deserving of compassion.
- People are deserving of compassion.
- I am person.
- Therefore I am morally obligated to treat myself with compassion.
Points 1 and 2 of course require some work to justify, but they seem fairly reasonable to me (though I confess that there are some specific examples of people that would make it a challenge to justify #2). This line of reasoning definitely appeals to me in a lot of ways. The first person who argued it once described it as an “egalitarian” argument.
There is another practical argument that I like. In a sense, a compassionate life is a mindful life. To live a life devoted to compassion, you must be sensitive to the suffering of those around you and which actions, large and small, lead to such suffering. Placing all of one’s actions in this context requires diligence and such diligence is born out of practice. Which better object for such practice than oneself?
One of my goals with this blog is to cultivate awareness of my thoughts and actions by forcing myself to think and document them, and this will be the first such instance. Again it feels a little self-indulgent to speak about compassion towards myself before compassion towards others, but perhaps it’s important as love for others is born from love for oneself. This will be a modest beginning as I get used to this idea of publicly and openly discussing such things. So, here is a way in which I failed to be self-compassionate today. Before climbing into the shower, I weighed myself on my bathroom scale. I was fairly unhappy with the number and as a result I turned to the mirror and, with a nasty look on my face, said something unpleasant to myself (I’ll choose not to repeat the wording here just to keep the language non-offensive). Now, my weight is a problem, so a compassionate response would certainly not be to dismiss the issue. I don’t know what the most compassionate response would have been, but I fell short on this occasion.
I have failed recently at treating one of my colleagues with compassion, and I will talk about such things soon.