Near enemies

Published on August 21, 2012 by      Print
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By Joslyn Hamilton

I am not really much of a current events girl. I get my news off Twitter, for the most part. But because I’m online most of the day while I’m working, I do notice the furors that crop up in my circles around this and that.

Okay, so there’s gay marriage. Obviously, any decent person is gonna stick up for it. (I didn’t say I don’t have opinions.) And a while back there was the furor about that Time Magazine breastfeeding cover. Personally—and I have to caveat this with the fact that I have no children—I would probably not breastfeed my kid until he/she had adult teeth, but that does not mean it’s my business if someone else chooses to do it. It perplexes me how we think it’s okay to assert our opinions and values on other people. Isn’t there a difference between making personal choices and dictating the behavior of others?

Or do words actually speak louder than actions on the internet?

This brings me to the topic of blog comments. A unique phenomenon relatively new to our internet culture, blog comments take the concept of the letter to the editor and make it immediate, anonymous and lethal.  There is a fine line between contributing to a discourse and using your opinion to skewer someone else’s feelings. And nowhere does that skewering show itself as more insidious than when the blog comment comes from a place of pity.

In Buddhism they talk about near enemies.

“The near enemies are qualities that arise in the mind and masquerade as genuine spiritual realization.” (citation) Near enemies are the ways an amateur Buddhist might behave under the guise of being “mindful,” without quite grasping the concept in its entirety (which we could have compassion for, natch). So we have the following:

Regarding the last set: compassion is when you understand that we are all human, doing the best we can. You might not understand why someone is acting the way they are or thinks the way they do, but you still respect that they have their reasons. And even if they do something you hate, you still have compassion for them. Yes, even horrible, awful people that do unspeakable things. You don’t condone their actions; you simply have compassion in your heart for their humanity and for the things in their life (or their culture) that led up to their current behavior. Like that guy who recently murdered all those people in the Colorado movie theater. He did a terrible, unforgiveable thing. You don’t have to understand why he did it. He might not even understand why he did it. But you can still have compassion for him. He is a human and something — mental illness, perhaps, but who knows — made him do this terrible thing. And even more importantly, you can have compassion for his parents. Those poor people. They raised a monster.

Oh wait, that’s pity.

See, it can be hard to tell the difference. Pity is when you look down on a person with contempt veiled as compassion. It’s gross, and spiritually violent. Pity is when you say “I pray for your soul” but what you mean is “Your soul really sucks.”  Pity is passive aggressive, and it lacks nuanced understanding. Pity is just another way of asserting your own point of view. Compassion, on the other hand, opens up your view to include the whole world of possible views. It includes listening.

In regard to comments on blog posts, it can be very hard to distinguish between compassion and pity. Comments sections are  a great place for discourse, disagreement and dialog. But, in my opinion, they are not a place for shaming. So before you publish your comment, maybe a good tactic is to ask yourself, am I saying this for the purposes of sharing information to contribute to this dialog? Or am I more interested in making someone feel bad about something they said — either the original writer of the story or another contributor?

The near enemies of compassion and pity are separated by a vast divide.

About Joslyn Hamilton 

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  1. Jenn says:

    Yes! Excellent post!

  2. Bob B. says:

    Very well said. I might add that where this behavior is the absolute worst is during election season where there totally is a win at all cost mentality going on. Consider reading this brief funny yet scary editorial.

  3. Joslyn hamilton says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this link. So true! I abhor talking about politics (or listening to other people talk about them) for this very reason. It’s all rhetoric — zero compassion!

  4. Brie says:

    I love this. You’ve so perfectly put into words everything I think, but no other poor soul is intelligent enough to grasp. Kidding. But for realzies, this is a good one.

  5. Louie says:

    I’ve had the same thoughts that you express by your comment that there is a fine line between contributing to discourse and skewering someone else’s feelings. But my reaction hasn’t been to blog comments so much as the blog posts themselves. Contributing posts to this particular blog, RY, is a very risky proposition in that regard. One theme of this blog of course is to expose hypocrisy and hyper-gullibility. It’s very easy to do that with derision. It’s much harder to do it with a modicum of respect for the target. It’s always easier to tear something or someone down than it is to build something positive that enhances other people’s feelings or understanding. Sometimes I feel that the blog posts take pleasure in mocking rather than expressing a point of view for the purpose of extending debate and discourse. And that’s just not nice.

    • Joslyn hamilton says:

      It’s tough to respond without knowing exactly which posts you are talking about, but I respect that you bring this up. We make a choice with each story we post in Recovering Yogi, and yes, sometimes they make fun of types of people. (Although, we try to shy away from pointing fingers at specific people.) It’s very difficult to have humor without “making fun,” but much of the time, we are making fun of ourselves. The interesting thing about Recovering Yogi is that so many people who read it are actually devoted yogis! Anyway, your comment is food for thought. But, I will personally say that I’m not interested in being “nice” all the time. I am a strong believer in critical thinking and I will say that it is a lot higher on my list than “being positive” all the time.

  6. LA Finfinger says:

    Thank you for writing this.

  7. Jill says:

    I totally agree with your point that pity is passive aggressive. In my circle I hear a lot of “I’ll pray for you because of x, y, or z”. When what the person really means is “I totally disagree with you”.

    Really, I’m a big girl. If you disagree with me, just say so. I can handle it. And using pity or fake compassion as a way to express disagreement is an act of hypocrasy against any faith view/religion that teaches the need for compassion, which, as a Christian, grates on my nerves.

    • Joslyn hamilton says:

      Amen, Jill! I love that you brought this up because compassion is an abiding tenet of Christianity, as I understand it. I wasn’t raised with religion myself, but I am very interested in it and how so many religions have so much in common. One thing I hear again and again is this concept of “compassion.” And again and again, I see it skewered into pity to serve the purposes of those using it. And I agree — I’d rather someone just flat out disagree with me than pity me!

  8. Amanada Jenkids says:

    what the hell are you talking about? JUST KIDDING! beautifully said :-)

    Can you asnwer this, at times people write and write about something. Then time goes by and they write something totally different. I have a huge problem, and I remember just about everything. I sometimes will post something and it looks like I am taking a dig, or throwing up the past, but I truely am just *curious* — for example a post reading, I WILL NEVER HAVE KIDS THEY ARE NOT FOR ME. Then passes and same person writes PRAY FOR ME FOR HAVING A BABY. -I should remain present and pray, but I want MORE to the story, and what changed, so when I asked, What changed? You didn’t want kids and now you do. Instead of getting a reply I get the -why do you have to be snarky and mean and drag up the past…??? Is it me being mean, or the other person being __?

    • Joslyn hamilton says:

      Ha — that’s a good question. I’m not sure if I’m the one to answer it, since I change my mind all the time, and I am usually pretty passionate about whatever my current philosophy is! This is why I so often quote Walt Whitman: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

  9. Charity says:

    You reap what you sow and seeing your whining about yoga culture is boring. You are an idiot who can’t seem to move on.

  10. Jade Doherty says:

    I loves this post, I do.

  11. Mr. T says:

    I pity the fool!

  12. ethan says:

    Aw, this was a very nice post. Inside idea I have to put in writing this way additionally : taking time along with actual hard work to make a great article… but exactly what do I say… I procrastinate alot and by simply no means apparently get something completed.