A year ago the first posts about compassion under the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion banner were posted and linked across social media. Each month this year new posts have been posted and linked. There have been heart warming and heart wrenching stories, life affirming and self challenging tales.
What have I learned in that time? Or relearned maybe? The importance of being kind to ones self and understanding that forgiveness starts with forgiving yourself. Yes but mostly it’s about judging, about the danger of assumptions and how test interferes with being compassionate.
I went for a walk this last weekend, along the Suffolk coast. It was a beautiful crisp day, the light on the rolling waves spectacular. The beach was free of human litter, a pleasant surprise but, instead, the carcasses of many trees dotted the sandy canvas.
And on the shore, where roistering spume met scrunching shingle a foam collected and frothed, like the aftermath of a leaky washing machine, occasionally born high by the whipping wind.
The trees here are the consequence of the continual erosion of the Covehithe cliffs giving way to winter storms. Signs warn the unwary to take care approaching.
As I stood and took in the scene my expression moved from scepticism at the cleanliness to annoyance at yet more signs of man created despoliation and pollution. Inwardly I fumed at the chemicals churning up this froth, ground my teeth as the warmed seas pummelled the shore to destruction.
And yet and yet. This coast has eroded, if you look at the Ordnance Survey maps, by some 500 metres since the last mini ice-age in the early 1830s. These trees have fallen into the sea for many years, well before the Industrial Revolution took a hold. And the froth and foam is merely the action of churning winds and tides on the salt water, not some leaky tanker. It’s not new and it’s not full of chemicals. Indeed the fish stocks hereabouts are increasing, os so we hear.
I believe we are damaging the planet; I despair when I see pictures of the plastic granulations that create that monstrous kraken in the middle of the Pacific. Yet I should know better than to assume I knew. What I saw along the coast fed my prejudices about global warming and I was wrong to let it. This wasn’t scientific or evidence based research. It was, in this case, whim and fancy.
We started this journey towards compassion with a post about a Village, the need to remember we, the human race, are one ‘Village’ and should give and be given respect and treated with compassion wherever we come from and wherever we are going to. But the Village analogy holds good in another way. We have something called ‘Dunbar’s number’:
You see this in many ways that work against what we set out to try and achieve. You see it the way people can be excluded – at work, in school, in society generally – because of differences, of not fitting in. Of falling inside or outside accepted assumptions. You see it meted out when one section of society looks or acts or speaks differently to another. It’s an easy mindset, a self-limiting social narcotic that we need to fight.
Example: I’m driving my car and someone comes up behind me, horn blaring. I think ‘stupid boy racer’. I assume it is a young man with no patience and less sense. It might be. But the driver could be any age and any sex. It could be impatience but it could be someone desperate to get to hospital, or someone who has seen my coat hanging out of the car door and worries I might suffer a nasty accident if it was caught.
It boils down to this. We cannot only work on detailed facts if we want to conduct normal lives. We have to use experience to interpret those facts in order to understand, and function within, the world around us. But what we need to do is to infer more and assume less.
Inference: An inference is a step of the mind, an intellectual act by which one concludes that something is true in light of something else’s being true, or seeming to be true. If you come at me with a knife in your hand, I probably would infer that you mean to do me harm. Inferences can be accurate or inaccurate, logical or illogical, justified or unjustified.
Assumption: An assumption is something we take for granted or presuppose. Usually it is something we previously learned and do not question. It is part of our system of beliefs. We assume our beliefs to be true and use them to interpret the world about us. If we believe that it is dangerous to walk late at night in big cities and we are staying in London, we will infer that it is dangerous to go for a walk late at night. We take for granted our belief that it is dangerous to walk late at night in big cities. If our belief is a sound one, our assumption is sound. If our belief is not sound, our assumption is not sound.
The point is, if we use our set beliefs as I did – we are damaging the planet through climate change, the coastline is being damaged, therefore the coastline is being damaged through climate change – we can end up with a bald proposition that fails any test of credibility. But if I had looked at what was happening, checked to see how often it had been happening – if I had found out what was true and used the facts to infer what was going on – coastal erosion here has been happening for 180 years – I might have come to a different and better conclusion.
We need to do this more in our lives: inside and outside family, at school, at work, in the street wherever we are. We all judge – it is nigh on impossible not to – but we need to do it with a more open mind and greater compassion.
Had I done so, I might have enjoyed my walk that little bit more….