Seeing the ego: compassion with and without expectation

This post will consider the following statement:

All compassion is selfish

Let’s also begin with a dictionary definition of the noun compassion:

Sympathetic pity and concern for the suffering or misfortunes of others

Think of the last time you were compassionate. Perhaps a friend was ill and you brought them flowers. Or maybe you donated some money to charity. Or maybe you were compassionate and took no action at all.

Now, ask yourself the question: why was I compassionate? There are no right or wrong answers.

In my experience, it is likely that at least part of the perceived reason is something along the lines of “it felt like the right thing to do” or “if I were in that situation, I would be suffering”.

I am going to suggest that these types of reason are subtle forms of selfishness.

Imagine that we lived in a world where compassion would not give us that warm, feel good glow inside. Replace it with whatever strong negativity that makes most sense to you. Would you still be compassionate?

This is not an easy question. To begin with, it is hypothetical. It is very hard for us to imagine this situation, since compassion is baked into our evolutionary psychology. We can’t help but feel good when we help others.

Despite this, to me at least, it seems that the core motivation for compassion is either the desire to feel good through lessening the suffering of others, or a fear that if we were in that situation others would not be compassionate to us. These are both ego driven concepts that are inherently selfish.

Here’s the good bit: once you can see this for yourself, once you can see the self preserving ego at work, you also have the option to see past it.

Compassion without expectation can be achieved by seeing the ego, letting it have its desires and fears, but also seeing past that.

Compassion that comes from this place can manifest in unexpected ways. Being spacious for people in your life is an often overlooked expression of compassion. It is rare in today’s busy world to give someone your undivided attention for an extended period of time.

What opportunities can you think of for compassion without expectation in your life?

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