We can easily strike up a debate about the inherent nature of humans.
Are we inherently good? Or are qualities like goodness, kindness, and compassion learned behaviors? Are they the product of nature or nurture?
It’s easy to look at today’s headlines about the tragic events plaguing our world, and say no, there is no good.
And that much is true, of course; there is much hate and negativity in the world right now. There always has been. But I will argue that if you look through all of that, you will find good everywhere. You will find stories of courage and compassion, stories about people doing great things and small to show another that they matter. We can probably swap headlines one-for-one, but at the end of our discussion, I will still insist that the vast majority of people are, for the most part and with the exception of certain extreme circumstances, essentially good at heart, at least most of the time.
Because no one is perfect. And because that’s true, maybe we don’t always do good things. Maybe we are not always good to one another, but even so we were not created to be evil.
You will say that’s hard to believe, given the violence and hate and anger we see in the headlines every day. That’s because media loves conflict. There is no drama when things are going well and everyone is satisfied – and the media hates that. The media wants you fired up, angry, ready to engage in a battle of opinion with anyone who wants to engage. It is the media’s job to tell you what to care about, what you should be afraid of, and who is to blame for whatever is wrong with your world. If only we saw half as much positive in the headlines – philanthropy, service, community spirit, and more – we would remember those good things and look for more.
Right now negativity prevails. But think about where a lot of the violence and hate and anger comes from. It comes from individuals’ desire to do something good, something just. Perhaps their actions or intentions are misguided. But if we reason to the root of things, we will so often see that people are angry because they want to be heard. People lash out at others because they want justice for those they see as oppressed and downtrodden. They speak up and act out because they want to effect change. And I think we’re really good at that – championing the underdogs, championing our causes. Most of the time. Except for the misguided few.
But I’m going to stop here. I don’t really want to debate whether people are inherently good because I have my answer – we are and I can show you proof. (The story is on my Facebook page.)
Today, I want to talk about an area in which we as humans are not good, an area in which we fail to be good and compassionate day after day, an area that if left unchecked leads to so many other problems. We humans may be inherently good, but we are not inherently good to ourselves.
Most of us at one time or another have treated ourselves more harshly than we would ever treat a friend or family member, or even a complete stranger.
We criticize and shame our bodies.
We minimize our gifts and talents.
We emphasize our bad habits and flaws.
We tell ourselves that we don’t deserve happiness, success, love, respect, or a nap. We push too hard and go too long and we don’t say no for fear that we might disappoint someone if we don’t take on one more thing that is simply too much to handle.
We do not care for ourselves. We do not make the choice to take care of our minds, bodies, hearts. We are simply not good to ourselves.
And that is a problem.
When we don’t love ourselves, we can’t love anyone else. If we do not know how to care for ourselves, to treat ourselves with gentleness and compassion, how can we do it for anyone else? We cannot be happy for others, we can not lift them up and support them. We can not rejoice with them or cry with them. Perhaps we go through the motions, give a good external facsimile of what we deem “good.” But that is too difficult to sustain for very long.
And it doesn’t stop there. The problem does not rest with a simple inability to show compassion for others. It becomes something much more complicated, something much worse. Without self-love and compassion, we begin to treat others just as poorly. We treat others not merely with a lack of a compassion and kindness, but with distinct and specific hatred, cruelty, and jealousy. We refuse to see other points of view. We fail to respect the beliefs, practices, or personal space of other people. We want our own voice to be heard so badly that we become misguided in our approach. Rather than caring for our Selves so that we can in turn care for others, we destroy our selves and have nothing left to offer. Feeling inadequate makes us lash out and bring anyone we can down to our own level of misery.
And so it becomes clear that in order to heal the world, we must first heal ourselves. In order to be compassionate to others, we must first be compassionate with ourselves. It’s just like the flight attendants stress in that pre-flight safety speech – put on your own oxygen mask on first, then take care of the guy next to you. If you can’t breathe, you are of no help to him.
Shaking our heads at the bad news and grumbling about how the world is going to hell in a hand basket isn’t going to change anything. Neither is overwhelming ourselves with worry that we can never change enough to make any difference. Before we set out to stop all the negativity in the world, we have to stop the negativity in our own minds.
Be good to yourself. Be kind to yourself. Acknowledge and embrace your imperfections. Let the good that lives inside all of us rise to the surface and ripple outward. And be amazed at how much good you see around you.
This month, 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion continues to work toward a better world with a focus on inherent compassion.
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