Idiot Compassion and Sentimental Grief
You’ve just had your appendix removed and a friend shows up at your hospital bed and begins to cry, saying, “This reminds me of when I had my appendix out when I was seven. Oh it was so hard!” and you expend the last of your precious healing energy trying to make them feel better. Or maybe you know someone who buys vodka for their alcoholic husband, saying, “But I really understand! I have so much compassion for him!”
On the one hand, it’s sentimental grief, and on the other, idiot compassion. Find out more about these two enemies true compassion, here:
A person who fails to note that he projects his own problems onto people who are suffering is incapable of providing effective help and can, moreover, easily drift into sentimental grief. For this reason it is necessary to make a clear distinction between our own situation and our own mental ecosystem on the one hand and the situation of a person we want to help on the other. Only then is sympathy and empathic understanding possible. When, reality-anchored and from a reliable subjective basis, we thoroughly apprehend the situation of the other, no despondency resulting from identifying with that other is possible.
Foolish helping, or, as some Buddhists call it, idiot compassion, is another distortion of true compassion. Through this we make it easier to get entangled in activities that will cause still further suffering. This is the case, for example, when we give alcohol or drugs to an addict, or cover for a criminal instead of confronting him with his situation. Such foolish help simply makes it harder for the suffering person to break out of the vicious circle of his suffering. Many “helpful measures” taken by people are foolish; the only function they serve is that of an alibi, by covering up guilt feelings and providing a distraction from the actual problems. Genuine compassion and understanding thoroughly and undistorted apprehends reality as it is.
Adapted from The Practice of Happiness by Mirko Fryba (Shambhala, 1995). Copyright (c) 1995 by Mirko Fryba. Reprinted by permission of Shambhala.
Adapted from The Practice of Happiness by Mirko Fryba (Shambhala, 1995).