In today’s world where global issues are being identified, labeled and elevated to center stage, we are entering into another dangerous pursuit. Violence, hunger, pollution, oppression… the list goes on.
In our eagerness to fight for the causes that we believe in, we start defining who or what deserves our energy and attention, drawing boundaries to shape these groups. As we become more emotionally engaged with them, we unwittingly exclude those that fall outside of the predefined boundaries from our field of compassion. To a certain extent, prejudice and blame towards these outliers even start to sneak into the subconscious of many of us.
Who are the new outliers in our reshaped world and minds?
Who are we rendering unworthy of our compassion?
The Hungry Rich
Just one out of the many stereotypes that we grew up hearing about people who possess great financial wealth. We were taught that it is wrong to covet the riches, and this served as a decent bedrock for the accumulation of anti-rich sentiments. The global compassion towards the poor and the hungry made it even more convenient to justify this prejudice.
In her book The Soul of Money, Lynne Twist outlined lessons from her decades of experience fundraising hundreds of millions of dollars as she served in leadership positions of global initiatives, including The Hunger Project. It was in a specific incident during an afternoon with Mother Teresa that she uncovered her own prejudice and resentment towards the rich. Recounting Mother Teresa’s reply to her, Lynne said:
“In her reply she admonished me, saying that while I had expressed compassion for the poor, the sick, the faint, and the weak all my life, that would always be a place where my self-expression and service would easily flourish. The vicious cycle of poverty, she said, has been clearly articulated and is widely known. What is less obvious and goes almost completely unacknowledged is the vicious cycle of wealth. There is no recognition of the trap that wealth so often is, and of the suffering of the wealthy: the loneliness, the isolation, the hardening of the heart, the hunger and poverty of the soul that can come with the burden of wealth. She said that I had extended little or no compassion to the strong, the powerful, and the wealthy, while they need as much compassion as anyone else on earth.”
The Oppressed Men
As the collective voice and power of women rises in our world, stories unfold about how women have suffered for centuries at the wrongdoings of men and the patriarchal society. The topic of women oppression has triggered very varied responses in both men and women alike – anger, guilt, sadness, indifference, etc. In our desire to ‘right the wrong’, we, as a society, turned our fingers towards men or engaged with them in a close-hearted way.
Have we ever entertained the thought that men have also, in another way, been suffering and oppressed?
Dr. Richard Schwartz, founder of The Center for Self Leadership, described the lonely stoic prison that has kept men caged from life-giving connections with themselves and others:
“For men, vulnerability means instant humiliation. In our culture, being a man means being able to quickly cut off from hurt feelings without a whimper. In a study of college students, researchers found that when females disclose feeling depressed to their roommates, they receive nurturance. But in response to the same kind of disclosure, the roommates of men were isolating or hostile. It seems that at least for men, the fear of looking vulnerable is well-founded. Remember Thoreau’s famous quote, ‘the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation’. It’s no wonder that men keep their desperation quiet.
As family therapist Terrence Real observes, boys and men are granted privilege and special status, but only on the condition that they turn their backs on vulnerability and connection, to join the fray. Those who resist, like unconventional men or gay men, are punished for it. Those who lose or cannot compete, like boys and men with disabilities, or are the wrong class or colour, are marginalized, rendered all but invisible. Boys and men live each day with the kind of fear that can only rarely be assuaged. Straight is the game, and narrow is the path. One false step and it’s a long drop down. If a man is not a winner, he is a loser. And the cost of losing is more than just the game at hand. It is abandonment.”
Concluding with Mother Teresa once again:
“Open your compassion and include them. This is an important part of your life’s work. Do not shut them out. They also are your work.”
How can you develop the wisdom to see your own prejudices, and cultivate the compassion for those whom you have closed your heart to?
By the way, what were the first answers/ thoughts that came to mind when you read the title of this article?