Pro-this, Anti-that: In a Divided World, I’m Pro-Compassion.

Photo by Cathal Mac an Bheatha on Unsplash

I won’t let my heart be divided.

The pain of divisive words has been eating at me. So many of the words being used in the mainstream media, social media, and what has become of our common discourse are lit up with disrespect, fear, and hate. The us vs. them rhetoric is hurtful to my heart.

And it should be hurtful. Because it’s not healthy. When something’s not healthy for us, our body and psyche will afflict us with pain, to signal to us that something is wrong.

Is the hateful language hurting you too?

Language of divisiveness—left vs. right, or pro-this vs. anti-that, for example—is not the language of the people. It’s not a product of our lived sense of one another as fellow human beings. It’s propaganda.

Employed by ruling and elite classes to manipulate the narrative, divisive language is wordplay designed to pull us apart, by those who benefit from our division.

These days as we navigate the pandemic, for example, the words “anti-vax” and “anti-science” strike sadness in me every time I hear them. I don’t believe those words genuinely define anyone. I do believe those words (and many others, on both sides of the political debate) are being used as tools to turn people into labels.

When we minimize others to labels, it’s easier to dehumanize them. When we dehumanize others, it’s easier to care less about them. And when we care less about each other, those who wish to divide and conquer us have just had their job made much easier.

I won’t allow divisive words to stop me from caring.

Whichever side of an issue we’re on, there’s going to be someone on the other side of it. That doesn’t mean that person is bad, or evil, or wrong. They may be wrong, in fact. But we don’t need to allow media, or government, or influencers, or friends and family convince us of what is right or wrong, simply by virtue of their authority (or proximity). Because they may be wrong. They may not have all the information. And they may be lying.

If we believe divisive words out of hand, we fall prey to othering: the belief that another person or group is the problem, or the source of our pain. But when we’re divided along ideological lines, it’s not you making me hurt, or me making you hurt. It’s division that’s hurting us both.

The “other” is not the enemy. If there is an enemy, the enemy is the othering.

So what to do? It’s hard to know where we stand, when we don’t know who to trust.

That’s why I’m pro-compassion.

In a world so riven with “pro- vs. anti-” ideology, compassion—recognition of the other as a feeling being who also suffers—is a balm to the heart. Compassion for the other is a unifying power, pointing us toward common ground to ease our collective suffering.

If I’m pro-compassion, that means I’m incapable to dehumanize you for your beliefs, because compassion is a humanizing force. If I’m pro-compassion I won’t hate you, because compassion understands that hate breeds more suffering, not less. Compassion is born from a primordial connectedness that exists innately within us, long before the labels of the outside world begin to subdivide our minds. Compassion comes from wholeness.

See, your ideological beliefs don’t tell me who you really are.

You may define yourself as pro-life or pro-choice. Neither of those stances tells me whether you’re kind. You may call yourself anti-racist or anti-fascist. That doesn’t tell me whether I can trust you with my heart. You may say you’re pro-gun or anti-censorship; that doesn’t tell me whether you’re willing to seek common ground with me.

But if you’re pro-compassion, whichever side of an issue you’re on, I feel safe with you. I know you’ll see me as human. I know we can work together. You may lean right and I may lean left, but if we center compassion between us, part of us is already on the same side.

I’m not saying that compassion is easy. On the contrary, I think it’s often easier to hate than it is to be compassionate.

But I am saying that compassion makes us free.

A popular verse by Rumi comes to mind:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

Being willing to meet in the field beyond wrongdoing and rightdoing doesn’t mean there is no wrong or right. It doesn’t mean we don’t have opinions. It doesn’t mean we don’t take a side, or fight for what we believe in. And it doesn’t mean we’re admitting weakness or defeat.

It simply means that we recognize the weakness of defining ourselves by our differences.

When we allow ourselves to be defined by opposing labels, we become trapped in those definitions. Division stokes more division. And from inside that box of wrong and right labels, we can lose sight of what “the right thing” even is.

But when we step out into the field beyond wrong and right, we free ourselves from that box and see clearly. We can turn around and witness the suffering going on “inside,” and feel compassion for those who are hurting on both sides. From that place of clarity, the last thing we’ll want to do is add to the harm. From that place, we can work for solutions that heal.

In this divisive world, I refuse to let my heart be divided.

I won’t allow myself to be lit up with disrespect, fear, or hate. I won’t let manufactured or normalized stereotypes break my connection to you. And I’ll do my very best to define you, not by any label, but by your humanity.

In a world that’s rife with us vs. them rhetoric, we can be pro-compassion. We can come together in the field of shared needs and put down roots of connection in the face of those who would divide us. That is a radical act.

So, I’m on my way out into that field. Whichever side of whatever thing you’re on, I hope to see you there.

Maybe together we can begin to heal our hurting hearts.


Elephant Alert! An edited version of this article is available on Elephant Journal at this link.

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One Response

  1. Well said, Shannon! We have to go beyond these identities, labels, beliefs created to meet in the field to begin the healing with compassion.

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