We often believe that compassion involves liking another person. Whether we like another person or not is not a central feature of compassion however. To illustrate consider the following. Recently in America in a town called Newtown, there were some horrific shootings which saw a number of very young people shot dead.
Can we have compassion for the shooter – Adam Lanza? The way to have compassion is try and step into his shoes. What horrors did he have in his life which turned him into a killer? How was he ignored? How was he invalidated? What do you think made him snap at that moment? The more we try and step into his life the more we are able to have some compassion for him.
Does this mean we have to like him or his actions? Absolutely not! What he did was reprehensible, and there is no excuse in the world which would make it less so. We might understand his behavior, which leads to compassion, but compassion does not mean it’s acceptable. Understandable perhaps, but acceptable no!
In having compassion and provided the killer was still alive, we might then be able to work with him in a therapeutic sense, if we were so inclined. Not everyone will want to and that is perfectly fine. But we could not work with him if we did not have compassion, otherwise the work would become to slanted. There are times when we think its in our best interest to not be with a person. That is ok too. For example, I have had people approach me to work with me and I have outright said no. However, that does not mean I did not have compassion for them, it just means we were not suited to be working together at the time for various reasons. It also does not mean I liked the people involved, sometimes I did not…
While the above example may seem extreme, bring it home, make it a bit more real, by seeing who you are in conflict with and begin to wonder what things in their life have made them the way they are. Perhaps by taking this approach, compassion and understanding may occur.