Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others.
- Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
Compassion, as it relates to self-care and overall wellness, is fraught with problems. The least of which is the idea that compassion will sooth my ills, and the worst is that I am implored to love myself regardless of circumstance.
Since my story was published in Lacrosse Magazine, my social media feeds have been filled with inspirational posts like:
I hope your nights are filled with love.
Your mind will always believe everything you tell it. Feed it hope. Feed it truth. Feed it with love.
Learn every day new ways to love yourself.
These are wonderful statements that look compelling when paired with an image of the moon or an illustration of growing trees. But what comes after compassion? After I have consoled myself, and told myself that everything will be okay, what then?
I wrote the following on my whiteboard this morning:
You need not more compassion. You must acknowledge the dignity inherent in being, and accept that that dignity requires more respect than you have ever given yourself.
I should have compassion for myself when I make a decision that harms me, but that should not be the end of it. If all I did was have compassion for myself I would soon move into self-delusion, where none of my choices matter because, no matter what, I love myself. After compassion there must be respect, and respect can only be earned.
This is coming across as harsh, but that cannot be avoided. I’m arguing for limits to self-love and compassion; any limits on these is an argument against them. Some self-ridicule and indifference may be the wiser course of action precisely because discord is the impetus for change.
I read Instagram posts hoping “my nights are filled with love.” All of them? Every one? Unending love and compassion for the rest of my days? How banal. Actually, how horrifying. How can I appreciate any of those feelings without exposure to their opposites? What sounds like a statement of compassion turns into a curse when you examine the current tugging from below the words.
Love and compassion need not be conditional. This is a good thing. It is why my parents loved me enough to discipline me when my actions, by themselves, were not worthy of love and compassion. I propose a similar way of looking at self-care.
I have love and compassion for myself, but there will be moments where I will lose respect for who I am.
There will be days when I objectively fail to live up to the morals I have chosen to live by, and it is not anti-compassion to acknowledge when I err. It’s practically required if I am to live in a manner that improves my virtue.
I must couple the comfort of self-love with the rigor of self-respect that personal dignity demands.