No strings...

Unconditional Compassion - caring regardless of the conditions

Well it's been a wee while since I wrote a blog, and part of the reason is I was overwhelmed by material to choose from! I have mulled over topics and not been able to get my head in the right space until recently, when I felt I had finally surfaced from the turmoil of the last 6 months. Personally and professionally I have been challenged beyond what I could have imagined. I am now no longer an employee, and I have shifted my psychologist registration. As I have listened to clients who have struggled these last few months I am gaining more and more faith in humanity and the amazing personal growth for so many - including myself! I would never have perceived my business could have evolved out of so much chaos and fear. I am truly indebted to some remarkable people out there for their faith in me and my services and I trust in the growth and expansion for us all. It all feels right and I believe I am now in an even better space to be of service to others.

As we head into the second half of 2022 I have much to be grateful for as my coaching service expands. At the heart of my service is the focus on taking action and making moves towards what it is you want! As many of you know from working with me, this process all starts with clarifying your VALUES!

The fascinating and revealing aspect about recent events is noticing where values and actions have not been in alignment in many organisations and indeed with many individuals, some of them our friends and family...

I have discussed this before and it is always worth repeating - if your beliefs and values don't align with your actions you will experience what is known as cognitive dissonance and no one can stay in this space for long! Somehow you must justify the in-balance and this is where we face turmoil! An example I often give is the smoker who is a fitness freak or the person who says they respect their children but at the same time uses punitive punishment.

Recent events, in New Zealand in particular, have highlighted something I see as conditional compassion. I use this term conditional compassion with reference to the obvious judgement around what is okay and acceptable to care about or sympathise with; and conversely what it is NOT okay to sympathise with - especially in social environments. I have been shocked and genuinely dismayed by people's reactions to some 'conditions' they don't agree with and the complete lack of compassion for those people experiencing these conditions. When I wrote my blog on mental health I raised a similar point about judgement and how we may inadvertently look to help people who fit our description of someone suffering, and ignore those most in need because they do not meet our acceptable suffering criteria.

Generally we are taught to aspire to unconditional love - which in behavioural terms would be better stated as unconditional acceptance of someone's behaviour...mmmmm probably pretty tough going! However maybe a better way to look at it is - I don't need you to behave a certain way in order to love or care about you. Is this reasonable I hear you cry? I challenged myself with this very notion and then heard a brilliant explanation that helped me get my head around it.

How likely is it that a person or collection of people can adhere to your expectations of being loving consistently if they too are doing what you are doing - demanding that others behave in a certain way? It gets messy trying to decipher that sentence! It gets even messier when we face the reality that our expectations of others to love and care for us MUST be a two way process or we are guilty of double standards!

So when we consider 'conditional compassion' and what we feel is rightfully deserving of our compassion surely it stands to reason that others will have their own standards? As long as we have compassion associated with certain criteria or strings attached, we will be missing the point completely. Compassion is NOT conditional, you can't be almost compassionate in the same way you can't be almost inclusive or almost non-discriminatory. We have tried to shift the meaning of language to suit our needs. Indeed we have created derogatory terms such as misinformation or conspiracy theory to describe anything we don't agree with and this use of language to degrade and mock individuals is akin to the playground bully. Somehow it has become socially acceptable to mock entire groups, and to have selected sympathy or compassion for a supposedly noble or well-supported cause.. We can demonstrate unconditional compassion daily without having to sacrifice ourselves or our values, we simply allow ourselves to care - what might this look like in terms of behaviour?

  • reflecting on our values and how we are living them

  • speaking up within our networks and using Socratic questions*

  • calling or reaching out, however briefly, to the person affected

  • avoiding passing judgment and simply saying something like ' that must be really tough for you'

We have all experienced a time of extreme uncertainty and fear, and our behaviour as a collective has demonstrated many text book responses to these conditions. Despite this, I remain forever optimistic - as do all behaviour analysts. Our very science is optimistic in its view of behaviour and the capacity of beings to change given the right conditions and the desire for change.


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