Existential Psychology

Cultivating Compassion In The Face Of Hostility, Hatred, And Injustice

By  | 

In the face of hostility, hatred, and injustice the knee-jerk reaction is to respond in kind. Hostility rises up within us, our own hatred grows, we want to punish those perpetrators of injustice, to exercise revenge, to get the satisfaction of seeing them suffer for what they’ve done. When we let ourselves fall victim to these baser instincts we become that which we denounce. We allow the virus to spread. We become its hosts.

If we want to avoid that fate we can start by realizing that we and we alone are responsible for the state of our psyches and when we allow negative, destructive emotions to grow and flourish within us as a result of the hostility, hatred, and injustice perpetrated by people around us we are pushed off of our own paths of self-actualization. We sabotage our happiness and our capacity to bring happiness to others. We become twisted versions of who and what we are. If we feel the norms and values we cherish are in direct opposition to the norms and values of those causing us to suffer then we can’t let the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that stem from our cherished norms and values to fall by the wayside. It’s not enough to believe in certain norms and values, we have to live those norms and values.

How do we transform the negative feelings, the anger, the sadness, the hostility, the hatred, the desire to punish, into compassion? First we can cultivate compassion for ourselves and for the people or entities we believe are victims of the situation. When we have the courage to recognize suffering within ourselves and others rather than pretending it doesn’t exist compassion comes easily, just like how when we see a young child in distress we run over without even thinking twice to provide comfort and support.

It takes real insight to cultivate compassion for those we believe are responsible for our suffering, for those whose own lives are ruled by hostility, hatred, and the perpetration of social injustice. But when we look deeply we see that their destructive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are a direct result of wrong perceptions, ignorance, and unacknowledged suffering. As Jesus said, “Forgive them father for they know not what they do.” When we recognize the deep suffering inside of them, deep suffering they seek to be rid of through projecting it onto other people and the world, deep suffering covered up by layers and layers of rationalizations and justifications but there nonetheless, then real understanding is born and with that understanding compassion is born since they’re victims just like us, whether they know it or not. Their psyches have become trapped in the same negativity and destructiveness threatening to engulf our own psyches.

Whatever other freedoms might be taken away from us, we always retain the freedom to respond to our situations as we see fit. When we choose love and compassion, when we let our lives be guided by the active desire for peace and social justice, we respond in a way that keeps us and our relationships mentally and emotionally healthy, in a way that keeps us sane, and in a way that insures our destinies will be the living embodiment of the norms and values we hold dear.

Cultivating compassion, for ourselves, for those people and entities we perceive as victims, and finally for those people and entities we perceive as perpetrators, does not mean complacency. When we look deeply we see it means an active orientation towards people and the world where we don’t just wish suffering and injustice didn’t exist but work to reduce it wherever we see it. When we fall victim to the same hostility, the same hatred, the same destructiveness, then we allow the productive, growth oriented norms and values we cherish to fall by the wayside. Hostility, hatred, and injustice cannot be met with hostility, hatred, and injustice or of course the cumulative result is an increase in hostility, hatred, and injustice. Hostility, hatred, and injustice must be met with compassion and active concern if we wish to help transform the world into that which we believe it can be.