Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I was going to explain enlightenment- you know, "abiding non-dual awareness" today. Maybe later.

Instead, Chris called me out on sophistries.  Told him we should save it for a long talk over a beer, but he just couldn't let it go. It's sad, really. ;)

To recap: It started with my assertion that to mindfully learn to crush throats is incompatible with compassion; that learning violence to increase your peaceful nature is an oxymoron.

Chris pointed out that compassion extends not just to the threat but to the people you are protecting.

I said that sounded like a sophistry, and a good subject for a long conversation- with beer,

Ta-dum... Chris said a sophistry would be pointing out that compassion means "suffering with"... and here we are.

This really should be a long, rambling talk with lots of time to make sure that we all agree on the common ground and take care to see when meanings diverge blah, blah, blah. Nope. This is a blog, so it's going to be a monologue. 
First using words they way they are defined is not sophistry, it is simple communication. So there!  Glad that's out of the way. On to the meat:

People do what they are going to do.  When they do it, they usually have a very definite reason.  Simultaneously, they also have a lot of excuses and beliefs and 'shoulds' and accepted perspectives and bullshit running around in their heads. None of these are the actual reason for the action, but we/they often believe they are.

If you are going to take the bad guy out to protect yourself or your family, that's a perfectly good reason. You don't need any more than that.  But if you have trained under some myth of a "compassionate warrior" one of those bullshit stories running around in your head will be that what you just did (broke a bone, snapped a joint, concussed a brain) must, in some way, have been an act of compassion.  You can just look at the guy laying on the ground screaming, puking and bleeding and have a pretty good idea the compassion wasn't for him... so you convince yourself that compassion for the people you saved is just as valid and you can hold on to your compassionate warrior badge.

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." (Not you, Chris- see the next paragraph to know what you stepped in).

A level deeper- someone wrote recently that training for fighting was exactly the same as training for enlightenment.  That turned my stomach (and it was probably why I threw in the original line.)  I have my own definition and understanding of enlightenment. It is not warm or fuzzy or particularly comfortable. Taking my understanding off the table and going with the  enlightenment-lite (ala Yoda or Kwai Chang Cain) of mindful awareness and compassion...

If you are studying combatives, martial arts, what have you, you are learning to break a person. Let's up the graphics a little: You are practicing techniques to make a human being scream in pain. To stop them from breathing until their brain cells start to die. To make organs bleed and limbs snap so that they never work again. You are studying the art of manufacturing cripples and corpses.  This is not compassionate. Pretending that caring for others counts as compassion against this is just whistling in the dark.  This is why they are incompatible with enlightenment-lite: in order to pretend you are studying violence compassionately or for compassionate reasons, you must choose to not think about this truth- you give up mindful awareness.

(For my definition of enlightenment it doesn't work either because you can't artificially learn truth. IME.)

But, it can give you the confidence to walk into the places where the deep truths are a heartbeat away. It can become a step, it can't be the entire journey.

Enough on that. I owe Chris a beer if I'm ever in his neck of the woods.
I also owe Bobbe a Chimay (is that the really nasty, sweet trappist beer?) for the best review of the book ever.  Sorry about page 90.
Also Scott (or coffee, if you don't do beer) next time I'm in San Francisco just for the line "He talks to us as if we were a bunch of girls sitting around in our nighties at a pajama party."

Lastly, a beer (or coffee, or scotch, whatever. Something.) for the first person who figures out the title of this post. (Payable when I am in the winner's city or he/she is in mine).


Kai Jones said...

You can't be peaceful unless you have the choice of being violent. Training for violence means that peace is a choice, not an unintended consequence of a contraction of the choice field.

My idea of compassion is suffering with others over the responsibility for making choices, not making their choices easier or less consequential.

Drew said...

I certainly agree that many folks go through a range of justifications to explain to themselves and others why they are studying how to cripple or kill other human beings.

However, you seem to be saying that any training which deals with violent struggle between yourself and another person is automatically incompatible with "compassion".

Where does training designed to escape an attack, or to restrain and/or temporarily incapacitate an individual without doing permanent lasting harm to him fall in this argument?

For example: your teenage nephew is visiting and receives a phone call from his girlfriend breaking up with him in a very brutal way. Already stressed with other life difficulties and emotionally fragile from newly prescribed medication, he becomes enraged when you ask him not to leave his stuff lying around in the hallway, and he grabs the first thing at hand, his electric guitar, and starts smashing things with it, then starts swinging at you. You are in the back bedroom of your trailer and have nowhere to go. What is the "compassionate" response here?

Arguably, in a court of law, you could show that you were in imminent danger and could probably justify doing serious harm to the kid in order to stop him. However, the question of "compassion" is whether or not a) you have trained in a range of responses which allow you to attempt to end the situation without serious harm to either one of you, and b) you REALLY WANT TO end the situation without serious harm to either of you and will work to that end until and unless it becomes impossible or so improbable as to put you at unacceptable risk.

Distracting strikes, a throw, pin, or joint lock might make an individual "cry out in pain", but if that pain a) does not indicate injury, and b) neutralizes the threat such that no (or no further) damage needs to be incurred to either party, is that not a more "compassionate" response than simply killing or maiming the aggressor? A bloody nose, bruised ass, or sore shoulder is not the same as a broken neck, gouged eye, or knife in the spine.

Choosing to train in awareness/avoidance, de-escalation/negotiation, escape, and a technical repertoire that allows you to suit the response to the severity of the situation seems to me to be a "compassionate" approach to "martial" training.

Some "martial arts" are more suited to this than others. Some dojos/guans/gyms are more conducive to this sort of approach. My own experience of highly trained Aikidoka and folks trained in a martially-grounded Tai Chi was that they had a great deal of flexibility in how much "harm" was delivered to an individual who attacked them. Having that range of physical and mental tools available allowed the _possibility_ of a "compassionate" response to violence.

It seems to me that a compassionate person will attempt to make compassionate choices, both in how they prepare for conflict, and in how they make use of that preparation if and when such conflict occurs.

Steve Perry said...

Only a monologue until we get our chance at the mike, m'lad ...

The title of the post is "D," so do I get the beer?

What? Oh, you mean there's more and we are supposed to figure it out from the "D" clue ... ?

Well, in that case, it should have been "B," which stands for "Bullshit ..."

And I find myself, oddly enough, in agreement with you. Learning how to beat people down is not about compassion. There is a big difference between a doctor who lances a boil to rid a patient's body of poison that might eventually kill him, and somebody who pounds a mugger into the ground like a tent peg because he picked the wrong guy to fuck with.

One could make the argument that, if you were adept enough, physically and spiritually, that you would do the pounding without anger or even ill-will, and that you could do it with the least amount of damage to the poundee. If you were the best aikido player in the world, you might be able to toss somebody around until they just got tired and quit, no harm, no foul.

For most of us, I suspect that is beyond our ability. I'm not good enough to take down serious attackers without hurting them. Be nice if I could, but I'm not there and I know it.

One could also argue that if you have a handle on the grand cosmic scheme of the universe and believe that things are predestined, that each part has its prescribed function, and that by thumping some fool stupid enough to get in your face, you and he are simply playing out your assigned roles.

Sorry, Dude, but it's your destiny to get your ass kicked, and mine to do the kicking. I feel for you, but, that's how it goes ...

That puts us into a realm of faith I'm not qualified to explore in depth, but I can see how there are folks who could hold that concept and believe it.

But by and large, it seems to come down to what the Cisco Kid had inscribed on the barrel of his gun, in, one assumes, Spanish:

"Don't make me hurt you."

Steve Perry said...

Just for grins: Either "Duality," or "Delivering Damage?"

Anonymous said...

anon-in-oz: how about Inflicting Passion :).

Master Plan said...

D, all of the above?

D, a 60% grade on a test, indicative of the degree to which you\Chris\somebody was correct about the initial post.

D for Definition

D for deeper.

and of course

D for define exactly what you're talking about.

Could also be D for Defense, as in to defend your points.

That's all I got. Hopefully we're allowed more than guess. ;-)

Master Plan said...

I think it's definitely definition since the post is a lot about defining definite definition for things. What you meant originally, what the word "really" means, and so forth. But I definitely could be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Is it the D in OODA?


Travis said...

The mythical 'compassionate warrior'. I've meet a few-not many, but a few- people who I would put into the true 'commpassionate warrior' category. For the rest of us (very much including myself) it is a usefull myth: a goal for training and development; an ability to chose appropriate levels of violence, etc.

But let's go to the small handful of true 'compassionate warriors' I've known.

Let me tell you, that didn't start out that way. The fought in real wars and saw large amounts of human suffering. They are warriors who developed compassion. Nobody taught it to them in a dojo.


Anonymous said...

Well let's look at Rory for example. Seems like he knows how to handle himself when things go wrong. Used to hanging out with people who would make most of us crap our pants.

How many times has he written about situations were he could have justifiably mangled someone, but didn't, because he knows a better way.

It seems to me that it might be hard to be compassionate about someone's situation, if you are acting on fear and the sense of losing control.

I guess what I'm thinking is that self knowledge, power, confidence through experience, maybe the ability to dominate, gives one the space within which compassion becomes possible.


Rory said...

5D (and this goes to Drew's comments as well)-
This is why definitions are so very important. What you and Drew describe is is simply doing the right thing. We train to have options so that we have a bigger field from which to choose the right thing. We train to increase our confidence so that the monkey mind won't panic us into the wrong thing.

Doing the right thing does not require and is not indicative of compassion. When I donate blood I am not feeling the pain and suffering of someone who needs it. When I don't hurt a criminal it is neither because I feel the pain he is feeling nor because I am in tune with the wishes of his victims past and future.

Compassion _is_ "suffering with" (I still like "Feeling with" better but damn Chris and his precision). I still contend that in order to train violence you have to either inure yourself away from compassion (and justify it in another way, as per thinking of the people you might save) or choose to be willfully blind to the effects you are training to produce.

I think of one specific incident where a man did exactly what he was trained to do in a situation where everything was fully justified and he was traumatized because it worked exactly as it was supposed to- he had practiced for decades to break bones and rupture organs and he was completely unprepared for bones breaking and organs rupturing.

Anonymous said...

Okay, but isn't doing the right thing a form of compassion?

When I think of a guardian, warrior, alpha wolf, teacher, mentor, I think of someone who is invested in the lives of those around him or her.

Throw in the bit about selfless giving and sacrifice and...

Maybe a kind of meta compassion?


Anonymous said...

Posted by Rory: "When I donate blood I am not feeling the pain and suffering of someone who needs it."

C'mon, on some level you must, or you wouldn't do it.

Even if it's just some deep subconscious resonance, or feeling, there is compassion in the act of giving blood.

get real. :)

Jay Gischer said...

In my lexicon, giving blood is definitely an act of compassion. Being able to measure the violence makes one more able to exercise more compassion, while doing what is necessary.

I do not live Rory's life, there is very little violence in my life, except for the dojo. As a teacher of martial arts, the most likely people to hurt me are students. Students will have personal issues, and sometimes you will hit their buttons and they will want to resist in ways that aren't useful. So I will sometimes need to give them pain, to set a limit. I choose to give them a little pain, rather than a lot of damage. And I am quite aware that it hurts.

In fact, a highly tuned sense of empathy is a positive tool in this situation. I know exactly the amount of pain that is required to disrupt them and make them subject to control. At least, that's what I aspire to. And because I empathize with it, I'm not inclined to do it capriciously.

Another way to think of it: I've known companies that do a very bad job of firing people. They do it clumsily, because its unpracticed. Other companies do it much more gracefully, but the guy still stops working there.

In Terry Pratchett's novel Death is a running character. At one point, Death says, "COMPASSION IS A SHARP BLADE". This is the concept I adhere to. Doing what must be done, and exercising the most compassion while doing it.

jks9199 said...

Giving blood is not an act of compassion.

In some cases, it's a desperate measure to feel like you're doing something to help. Note: this is not because you are "suffering with" the injured person -- it's because many of us are wired to FIX things, and when we can't we go nuts.

In other cases, it's a simple bet: I may need blood one day, therefore I participate in the blood bank system that ensures that I'll have blood when I need it.

Or, even simple pragmatism: My employer's deal to guarantee us blood when we need it is that they have to have x% participation in blood drives.

Doing no more than is necessary and justified in a violent encounter for cops and correctional officers isn't compassion, either. It's a combination of professionalism and pragmatism. Professionals do their job right, even when they don't have to or it's not easy. And, pragmatically, if you go to far -- your ass is on the line, professionally, civilly, and even criminally! One place I, as I cop, don't wanna see is the wrong side of the cell gate!

And Rory pointed something else very important out: It's not enough to train someone to be able to use force. You have to give them the tools to deal with what they do... both before and after.

Anonymous said...

"it's because many of us are wired to FIX things, and when we can't we go nuts."

I can relate to that, through my own experience and from watching the way other people operate. Very funny to me, in an exasperated and resigned-to-human-nature way, made me laugh.

And sometimes compassion might figure it into it somehow. :)

"It's not enough to train someone to be able to use force. You have to give them the tools to deal with what they do... both before and after."

I can relate to that also, because if I look at myself and try to imagine "that person" having to actually use karate, as I understand it, all I end up with in my mind is myself losing my sh#t. I'd probably revert back to about one week old or something like that. Oh well. A weird scene for anyone to respond to. Or maybe not?


Drew said...

Well, then I guess this points more to a difference in usage of "compassion" between us, than to the presence of absence of it in martial training. As you define it, literally "suffering with", I could say, with a some philosophical and psychological justification that one never truly "suffers with", or shares the suffering of, another individual. We can only perceive and interpret their external manifestations of their own internal emotional life and then have a sympathetic, but utterly self-constructed sharing of that experience, in whatever limited way our understanding allows.

Methinks you're in a game of semantics here, and that those of us questioning your premise will just continue to chase after your definition of "actual compassion" endlessly., for example, defines "compassion" as "a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering." defines it as "a deep awareness of and sympathy for another's suffering" and "the humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something about it".

I submit that it is possible to experience these responses towards an individual who is attempting violence towards yourself or another, and on whom you may find it necessary to commit an act of violence. It is possible to empathize with an individual's suffering, even while causing it, and this empathy can dictate the difference between a merciful response and an unmerciful one.

And this brings up one of the expressions of compassion in a violent situation: mercy. One can, as you say, show mercy because of one's fear of later prosecution, because one is a professional, etc etc, but the fact that such motivations MAY be the motivating factor does not mean that they MUST be the motivating factor. This applies to giving blood or any other act which may or may not involve empathy.

Rory said...

The dictionary definitions work fine, and both include the desire to do something about it. When you are the one inflicting the suffering that you want to do something about, the obvious way to do it is to not inflict it in the first place... and fulfilling the definition is to stop yourself; inflicting the damage is to reject your definition of compassion.
So the definition must change...and we wind up with people arguing that not to use training is compassion, or mercy (two different things, one a motivation, the other an attribute) or...

This obviously hit a lot of buttons, which means there is a lot invested in that little fuzzy label.

Remember Bill Cosby's comedy routine about learning karate so that you could beat people up passively? Beating people up compassionately is just a different flavor of kool-aid. You could probably substitute the words in the routine without changing an iota of meaning...would the same people be laughing?

About the 'D'- No one is even close, yet. It has nothing to do with the content of the post (that's a hint). If no one gets it, the next post will be in the same vein. Y'all should get it then.

Steven Smith said...

A thought provoking and monologue encouraging...

My grandpa lived in the left wing for his last two years. Once, while I visited the nursing home, he scolded my father: "Why don't you take me out back and shoot me in the head."

Ah compassion, where for art thou. Our cultural fears of death distort the uses and techniques of killing.

I agree Kai: you cannot peaceful unless violence is a choice. I might contend that we cannot be deeply and personally peaceful, and, on the contrary, in this society, we could lead peaceful lives externally while turmoil rages internally.

When I practiced Karate and learned to punch and kick and win tournaments, I was left with an inner doubt about my personal safety. Now that I know eye gouges and how to smash carotid sinuses, I am capable of being friendly to quite mean people. And I've been known to calm them down.

Did I mention: I agree, Rory. One cannot train to crush throats with compassion. One must train violently (really, we must train abstractly to protect our partners) to produce violent potential. In the long-term, such a thing can produce deeper layers of compassion, but only if we allow and open ourselves to our vulnerable nature.

That's the shift: the compassionate-warrior has the same powers as the thug, but the the compassionate warrior is capable of a more profound, sensitive, vulnerable experience thoughout life.

Steven Smith said...

I missed your bit about: doing the right thing. But I think doing the right thing is either 1. based on someone else code (e.g. religion or teacher) or 2. on personal power.

When personal power is rooted in a quest for or an experience of compassion...that seems more potent than someone else's code.

But it's true...a self-protective act is not necessarily compassionate, but pragmatic.

Anonymous said...

D for debate? D for discussion?

Scott said...

Yes, coffee would be nice. But for you I would drink whiskey. The D is for drink, so I'll have one of each.

Compassion is awareness of the sanctity of life which is bigger than normal categories of experience. It transcends ideas of family or tribe or species.

It is not diminished by emotions like anger or love. It is untouched by moral sentiments like good will, or peacefulness.
If I try to describe how stepping on someones throat is an act of might start to sound like pity, "This guy is the way he is because his mother beat him...," but compassion resists being described, being dissected.

Compassion is not pity and it is not petty either. It does not distinguish between the action of pouring out the waste water during tea ceremony--and the fast clean cut of the executioner's sword.

Compassion is bigger than knowing, bigger than possessing, bigger than any one life or any one time or anything we could call personal.
The mother tiger protects her cubs with compassion.

That's some good eggnog!

Drew said...

"The dictionary definitions work fine, and both include the desire to do something about it. When you are the one inflicting the suffering that you want to do something about, the obvious way to do it is to not inflict it in the first place... and fulfilling the definition is to stop yourself; inflicting the damage is to reject your definition of compassion."

Only if you are considering "compassion" in vacuo. I submit that having the urge to stop causing the suffering is to have "compassion". To override that urge because of other situational factors does not mean you are not feeling compassion. If I feeling terrified, but choose not to show it because I don't want my children to become alarmed, it would be a stretch to claim that I am not experiencing fear.

Anyway, this is classic Ethics/Psych 101 stuff you're exploring. So let's explore this for a minute with an extreme example: you are on a hike in the woods, alone and far from any towns. You step out of the woods onto the side of a remote road and discover that you are on the scene of a car crash just after it has occurred. The lone occupant of the car was flung through the window as it crashed and her foot is trapped under the twisted wreckage, which has now caught fire and is rapidly becoming an inferno. In minutes she will begin to burn alive. You try in vain to get her foot free, or to move the car, but cannot free her from the wreckage. It is clear that help will not arrive in time and that she will suffer a horrible death if she remains trapped. Looking about in desperation, you see that she was carrying an assortment of sharp chef's knives and a cleaver in a box in her front seat. The thought occurs to you that cutting her foot off will cause her unimaginable pain, but a chance of survival, whereas not doing so will result in both horrible suffering and death. She sees you looking at the knives and says "I don't want to die, but there's no way I can do what you're thinking. You have to do it for me, no matter how much I scream and try to stop you."

If you cut her foot off, despite your horror at the suffering she is experiencing, is it possible to experience compassion while doing so? Even if she screams and wails as you do so? I say yes. But your compassionate urge not to inflict the immediate pain is not enough to prevent you from taking action to save her life.

Similarly, I may cause pain to an individual who is about to cause serious harm to himself or others. My larger sense of the act I am preventing, and my desire not to cause more pain or injury may cause me to act counter to my immediate "compassionate" reluctance to cause the pain in the first place. My choice to cause as little harm as possible, and to stop causing this pain as soon as possible within the parameters of the situation is an expression of my compassion for the individual, as limited by my larger and more urgent goals.

"So the definition must change...and we wind up with people arguing that not to use training is compassion, or mercy (two different things, one a motivation, the other an attribute) or..."

The definition does not need to change, we simply must allow that an individual may take an action which is abhorrent to him, if he judges that the result of NOT taking the action would be even worse.

"This obviously hit a lot of buttons, which means there is a lot invested in that little fuzzy label."

Possibly. Or it means that speaking in absolutes about human emotional life, and the common apparent contradictions between our actions and our feelings, is an easy way to stir up discussion. Worked pretty well, I'd say. ;-)

By the way, I've really been enjoying your blog. Random Google gold. I don't even know what I was searching for at the time.

Anonymous said...

I like this. So Scott, are you saying that life is suffering and all sentient beings are in the same boat, therefore "suffering with" happens regardless of how any of us might act or what story we might be telling ourselves about ourselves and our relation to the world around us?

Therefore, the only thing we as sentient beings might have control over is the degree to which we become aware of this reality?


Steve Perry said...

Well, except that while suffering exists, (due to attachments,) there is a way to end suffering, you can learn it, and it is the Eightfold Path -- if'n you are a fan of Siddhartha Gautama's MIddle Way of the Four Noble Truths ...

Scott said...

Hi Anonymous, you just described Buddhism, but that wasn't what I said. Suffering is an experience. Maybe you have it maybe you don't. I don't believe it is pervasive or governing. It may be, but I'm not in a position to know that. I only have my own experience to go on, and I'm not suffering baby, not much anyway.
As humans, we really don't know to what degree we are in control of our fate, maybe a little, maybe a lot, maybe not at all. Pretending we know doesn't make it true.

Anonymous said...

Suffering. Truisms. Heavy words spoken by heavy people. Compassion.

Just people like you or I who expressed themselves in a way that happened to touch people around them.

The buddha says "life is suffering" because of what he sees and projects on the lives of those outside of himself.

Or maybe he really was suffering.

One could just as easily say "life is ecstasy", or "life is love", or "life is joy".

The grass is still green, and the sun continues to pump out massive waves of energy.