I am thinking about compassion and how it works in ethical non-monogamy. I’m thinking about the power of compassion to counteract times I’m suffering and when I’m tackling emotions and insecurities. Empathy is often my path to compersion, a.k.a. taking joy in my partner’s joy. I think learning to feel real and true empathy with everyone in a situation, and to have compassion for people gives me the freedom I crave. Many times I’ve been in a situation, angry at unfairness or feeling jealousy or envy or disdain at how someone is behaving, only to have it melt when I had that flash of compassion and really see myself in the other peoples’ skin. Things like “Oh. They are saying they are worried about losing me. Maybe I’ll hug them and talk to them” come to mind instead of “fuck you! Why are you acting like this!?!!?”
People aren’t against us, no matter how it seems, and even when they eventually are that’s not really what drives behavior. People are for themselves. People do not wake up plotting, “today I will devote myself to derailing SeattlePolyChick.” Nope. They act to meet their own needs and wants and sometimes I’m splashed. It’s easier to see this is a situation I’m not directly involved in, but trying to have compassion gives me a LOT of peace when I most need it. Let’s use an example.
I have an acquaintaince who is manipulative and dishonest at times. He is otherwise a very nice, kind, sweet guy but when he is scrambling, he twists things and uses people. It has cost him relationships, friendships and respect. People can’t really connect with this guy because of his bad behavior at times. I could rail with anger and upset at the frankly terrible way he has behaved, and sometimes I have. (And of course I don’t have to keep putting myself in a position to be hurt). I can see that this is a very sick person. He is not aware of how he treats people and pushes away the very people from whom he seeks love. He manipulates himself right out of good situations and into messes with his petty scrambling to get what he wants.
Imagine actually living like that! Imagine feeling like the only way to have companionship and love and to get your needs met is to try to manage and control and contort people and relationships into facsimiles of what you need them to be, knowing that it will, inevitably, fall apart. Imagine being so afraid to be honest. Imagine feeling so full of need and anxiety and desperation that you try to wrestle the world into your mold and always fail. I know that he is trying and I see his desire to do right and to be a good person, but it is these character defects that keep him locked in his current unhappiness and that isn’t going to change until he sees that. Until he deals with that he will never be happy.
Obviously we make choices about who to keep in our lives and what behavior we will tolerate (or gosh, we should), but we can have compassion in our outlook on others and it’s the key for me to being free from my negative emotions and hate and frustration, jealousy and envy and fear.
An attitude trying to feel things from the other perspective changes everything. Imagine being the person in your poly situation who doesn’t live with your shared love and doesn’t have that kind of access. Imagine how you’d miss your sweetie and how much your love’s partner’s little kindnesses and sharing and inclusion helps. Imagine what it would be like to never have holidays or birthdays or whatever with the person you love. What would you hope for if you were the other girl or boy?
Imagine being the husband or wife and going from just “me and her or him” to having other people in your spouse’s life. Imagine how much you’d have to adjust to not always being the first person she runs to because she loves someone else too now. Imagine how you would want things to move carefully as you opened up your marriage and how much you’d need a little reassurance or willingness to accommodate, or a little reassurance that though you aren’t the only one in your spouse’s life now, you are still loved and special and needed. Imagine what you’d want from your spouse or the people they are dating or sleeping with or love?
In open relationships of course we want to deal with our own emotions and not cause drama, but imagine how much a little compassion would help when you are having a moment of less-than-stellar feelings and how much you’d appreciate forgiveness and support in that situation. Think for a moment about really being in that place. When you are most frustrated, think about what it might be like to be the other person. Think about being even more kind. It’s shocking how often my anger or hurt or jealousy or frustration melt. Understanding helps me find better ways to help meet someone’s needs or even just communicate well. Meeting adversity with empathy is a powerful tool, much more relationship building than anger resentment and fear.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once talked about a very extreme form of compassion.
“I've seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up against our most bitter opponents and say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you…. But be assured that we'll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory”. A Christmas Sermon for Peace, Dec 24, 1967.