Compassion and empathy are powerful forces, but like gravity they function best when we are connected and interdependent with the object of that compassion and empathy. The greater the separation or distance between us and “other”, the weaker or more conditional our compassion and empathy becomes. Stated differently, the unconditional power of our compassion and empathy for “other” drops away as the distance between us and “other” increases.
The forces that create our disconnection with others include economic status, poverty, homelessness, ideology, geography, language, skin color, sex, intelligence, our values, and even the many unconscious illusions we embrace as “truth”. In other words, we tend to save our compassion and empathy for those who are close to us. Those who look like us, think like we do, and speak our language. People we “know”. People who are “visible” to us. The closer the relationship we have with “other”, the greater our ability to offer unconditional compassion and empathy.
The Illusion Of Separateness
The basic creator of distance between ourselves and “others” is our unconscious belief that we are somehow separate from the rest of creation. We believe we are a separate and “unique” self with little to no connection with the rest of reality. This childhood illusion of separateness creates an emotional sense of “us” vs. “them” towards the rest of reality. The rest of reality becomes “other” or “it”. In other words we lose the ability to experience “other” as a “thou” relationship; the awareness that we are interconnected and interdependent with all of creation. The moment we unconsciously label someone as “other” or “them” we unconsciously begin to create emotional distance between “us” and “them”. They become “objects” to be labeled and categorized in our mental filing system under the heading of “other”. We lean into judging and labeling “them.” Our energy towards “them” unconsciously becomes darker and critical.
The illusion of separateness from the rest of reality is far and away the most dangerous and destructive belief ever created by our human species.
It unconsciously turns all of creation into objects called “other.” Or “it”. When that happens, we unconsciously begin to judge them as being distant or invisible, not like “us”, or less than “us.” Objects we can unconsciously choose to ignore. Objects that are not worthy of our compassion or empathy.
“But wait. We are supposed to love and respect everyone. Right? So if you’re right, then why don’t we feel guilty when we withhold our compassion and empathy from “others”?
You mean like all the immigrants that are fleeing from their homes and seeking safety in other countries? Or the more than 200 million people murdered by other human beings in the 20th century? Or the innocents that are currently being killed by our relentless bombing of “terrorists” in far off countries? Or the planet we treat as an “it” rather than a living “thou”?
“Yea, well, OK. I get the point. But why don’t we feel guilty?”
The answer to that question is called cognitive dissonance. A fancy word for a simple concept. Essentially, we hate being torn between two conflicting emotions. In this case between compassion and our sense of guilt for not feeling a sense of compassion for all those victims. Cognitive dissonance simple means we tend to discount feelings that give rise to emotions we don’t want to deal with or experience. In this case our guilt. In fact, cognitive dissonance is so powerful, it’s hard for us to even get in touch with feelings of guilt. We didn’t kill them, so why should we feel guilty about their problems. Right?
“I really don’t feel guilty about what’s happening to them. Does that make me bad?”
Nope, just unawakened. Not yet conscious of the fact that our fears of “other”, and our bombing of “those” terrorists, are rapidly destabilizing the Middle East and creating great suffering for innocent“others”. We need to awaken to the reality that our fears of “might happen” events are effectively blinding us to the suffering we are actually causing those invisible “others”. Then perhaps we could get back in touch with a sense of guilt and responsibility for not speaking out about that suffering; the suffering and injustice we are causing innocent “others” every day.
If we could drop the illusion that we are separate from the rest of creation, perhaps we could begin to treat all living beings on our planet as “thou”.
“So how do we awaken our consciousness and get in touch with our compassion?”
Well, if you’ve read this far in the article, you are probably already beginning to wrestle with the issue. That my friend is called awakening. In other words, you’re already beginning to awaken your consciousness……and beginning to increase the possibility of offering your empathy and compassion for those who are suffering in the world. Just continue to remind yourself that we are all intimately connected and inter-dependent on all the rest of creation. We are interconnected and interdependent on all of the rest of creation. “Other” is a very, very dangerous illusion.
“That’s a big thing to think about.”
Ok, let’s make it more concrete. Ask yourself, what would your world look like tomorrow morning if all the honey bees disappeared while you were sleeping? Talk to yourself about that story. What would your life look like if the pollination of our food suddenly ended? 30% of the food you eat would disappear, and 90% of all wild plants on the planet would disappear. That’s the kind of inter-dependence we need to think about whenever we think we are unique and separate from the rest of creation.
“I never thought about it that way.”
Every time I catch myself creating an emotional category of “other”, or “it”, I simply remind myself that separateness blinds me to the indifference I feel toward the suffering that my brothers and sisters are experiencing around the world; and that includes my concern and empathy for the plight and suffering of the poor honey bees. I quietly reaffirm to myself that I’m connected with everything in creation. I am slowly learning to see all of creation as “thou.”
I silently remind myself that; as part of a species that is becoming a global civilization, “other” is rapidly becoming a very dangerous illusion.
“So what you’re doing is making sure you don’t unconsciously create distance in your relationships with the rest of creation because it limits your ability to offer compassion and empathy to the world. Right?”
You got it. You’ll find that it will help you stay awake and see “others” and the whole of creation as kin.