This is the continuation of a group discussion of martial arts and compassion. Your thoughts and opinions are welcome.
As martial artists, we naturally develop a certain familiarity, or even comfort with violence. That is a good thing.
And at the same time, as members of a civil society, we are compelled to minimize our violent interactions. That is also a good thing.
Can these attitudes and skill sets be integrated? Synergized, even? Or, must gains in one area come at expense of the other? Rory says,
Mindfully learning to crush a throat is incompatible with compassion- no matter how hard you visualize or how deep your meditation on your skills, if the first time you break someone’s bone or make them scream it bothers you, you weren’t honestly mindful- practicing violence to acquire a peaceful nature requires a willful blindness.
In the midst of a crisis, the warrior does what is necessary. Afterwards, they may reflect on what is possible.
To a professional fighter, this supposed incompatibility may not pose a serious problem. They can simply leave their work at the office, so to speak, and adopt a gentler persona during evenings and weekends.
Civilian martial artists are a different animal. I contend that the neurotic martial hobbyist, one who finds themselves unable to reconcile violence and compassion, is a danger to themselves and everyone they encounter.
It’s a Hollywood cliché, with an unfortunate basis in reality: the so-called “peaceful warrior” delivers a peaceful warning to his challenger. His mouth says, “I do not want to hurt you,” while his body secretly yearns for an opportunity. Such incoherent responses are a sign of self-delusion, of psychological crisis. Obviously, a reconciliation is necessary.
As it is necessary, let us now make it possible. And if we must change our working definitions of compassion and violence, so be it. Growth requires change.
Chris is right to point out that compassion means “suffering with” (I would have held it at just ‘feeling with’ but he’s right). You can’t suffer with everybody. The best example is the way some teachers, counselors, medics or just friends can really be there with you in the dark times. I have never seen anyone exhibit that level of compassion to more than one person at a time. Part of the power lies in the focused personal attention that it requires. When someone tries to feel for everybody and everything, it is indistinguishable from angst (which I privately call ‘emo whining bullshit paralysis’).
This deep attention is also critical in combat. I don’t always have to be completely in the (head, heart, spirit, motion, whatever it is, all about him) of the threat, I can also (and prefer to be) completely within myself, totally in my action.
So, in the moment of delivering damage, you aren’t thinking about the people you are saving. If you aren’t thinking about them, you certainly aren’t ‘suffering with’ them. This is why it smelled like a sophistry to me- it sounded like the words someone would tell themselves to keep a label.
Protecting people is reason enough. You don’t need to pretend that you were doing it with a certain type of emotional involvement or for a separate reason that you have been told is “the warrior ideal.”
Every attack we endure incurs a cost. We may suffer physical or emotional trauma; we may escape trauma, but exhaust ourselves by doing so; we may maximize the efficiency of our response, but are nevertheless forced to redirect our attention towards the threat. Opportunity costs are simply unavoidable, and ignoring or denying these costs will not erase them.
If we accept inconvenience and annoyance as mild forms of suffering, then we should recognize that compassion—suffering along with those who attack us—is mandatory.
This compassion is not an example of kindness (though it may be a prerequisite); it is a matter of honest self-awareness. As John Donne meditated:
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
John Donne wrote these words from his sick-bed. I do not suppose he was pretending to Eastern warrior ideals at the time, or “trying to feel” his compassion. Rather, I suppose his illness left him weak enough to feel it without even trying.