Compassion: some thoughts

The current Dalai Lama (14th Dalai Lama, religious name: Tenzin Gyatso, born Lhamo Thondup) often uses the word 'compassion' in his writings and he is right to do so, compassion is one of the great virtues.

Where I differ from the Dalai Lama is in how far and to whom that compassion should extend; it seems to me that we must have compassion, not only for our fellow human beings, but for all life on earth. I am not saying that the Dalai Lama does not extend compassion to other creatures, I am just saying that my emphasis is more in that direction than his. And among my fellow humans, I would limit compassion to those deserving of it.

This page is not intended to be about the Dalai Lama, or what he and I have in common or where we differ on compassion, but on compassion itself.

This page was written 2018/11/07, last edited 2023/11/12
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©

"I believe that the proper utilisation of time is this, if you can, serve other people, other sentient beings. If not, at least refrain from harming them. I think that is the whole basis of my philosophy."
The Dalai Lama, From "The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living"

I would modify this a little and say that we should try to serve the biosphere; that is, work for the welfare of all life on earth. But as for humanity, we need to withhold our compassion in the case of those who are damaging the planet and the living things of and in the planet. "Tread lightly on the Earth."

I must admit that I have little, if any, compassion for those humans who rubbish the Earth. Is that a failing?

I have written elsewhere on ethics and my ethics. If I had to put into one word what I believe ethics should be based on I could hardly do better than 'compassion'; having compassion for (almost *) all sentient beings and all life on earth, current and future.

It would be very difficult for the many people who are struggling to survive to put compassion for others above their own immediate needs. But for people like me, who have all that we need, and even more for those who have far more than they need, I believe there is an obligation to show compassion.

How could one feel that one's life is meaningful if it is self-centred?

Professor Harry Messell once said "I aimed to make the Earth a better place – and failed miserably". I'd be pretty sure that what he meant by that is that in spite of his best efforts the world did not become a better place. But the important thing is that he showed compassion in trying to make it a better place. And I'd be pretty sure too that the world was a better place for his having lived than it would be had he not lived.

Sheep sheltering in the shade of a wind turbine on a hot day
Sheep in the shadow of a wind turbine
This photo relates to the subject of this page in two ways:
1. We need to show more compassion to our domestic animals in ways such as providing them with shade in our increasingly hot summers;
2. We need to show more compassion to all life on earth by changing from the burning of fossil fuels to renewable energy.

It also shows that sheep have no fear of, and don't avoid, wind turbines.

Photo credit Linda Connor
I was once accused by a Senator of lacking compassion because I supported renewable energy, wind power in particular, and he claimed that wind turbines were making people sick. In fact, there is no credible evidence that wind turbines do cause illness and I would hold that Senator Leyonhjelm and others of like mind are lacking in compassion in several ways:

  1. They are causing anxiety by irresponsibly spreading the unfounded rumour that wind turbines cause illness;
  2. They choose to ignore the huge and very real damage that is being caused by the burning of fossil fuels, coal in particular;
  3. They are harming all future generations of humanity, and life on earth generally, by slowing desperately needed action on climate change.
Perhaps Senator Leyonhjelm was aiming at being compassionate to those who (mistakenly) believed that their health was being harmed by wind turbines, but his actions were harmful rather than helpful, perhaps due to ignorance of the facts, perhaps due to other causes or motives.

For compassion to be fully and properly applied it must come with being well informed. "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions."

Climate change and (lack of) compassion

The burning of fossil fuels is widely recognised as the main cause of climate change, ocean acidification, ocean warming and sea level rise. The air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels kills millions of people world-wide each year.

The world's very slow response to these disasters shows that at least those who are in control (if anyone is truly in control) is lacking in compassion for those who will come after us.

Australia is one of the biggest coal exporting nations, second only to Indonesia. Some of the wealthiest people in Australia have made their money through mining and exporting coal. Those same people have done all they can to keep the coal industry going by supporting misinformation, disinformation, doubt and ignorance. Those in charge of the other fossil fuel industries are no better. All they seem to care about is profits. They, and their supporters, certainly lack compassion where it counts.

The Australian Government and compassion

The Morrison Government was lacking compassion in its continual and unjustified support of the fossil fuel industries that are causing so much damage to the world.

The Albanese Labor government that came after the Morrison government, while being far better than its predecessor, is still unconscionably looking after the interests of the Australian fossil fuel industries.

A limit on compassion

As mentioned above, there are those of our fellow human beings who do not deserve compassion. Humans can make choices, to be deserving of compassion or not.

I would particularly place in the undeserving group those who are knowingly damaging our shared planet by their actions. I've argued on another page that some of these should be classed as the greatest criminals ever in terms of the amount of harm that are doing to life on Earth and to those human generations who will come after us.

How could one be compassionate to these people? I have asked the question on another page, why would you live a life that makes you deserving of the contempt and despite of all decent people?

Paradoxical Commandments

The Paradoxical Commandments, 1968
Kent M. Keith

"People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
    Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
    Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
    Succeed anyway.
The kindness you show today will be forgotten tomorrow.
    Be kind anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
    Be honest and frank anyway.
The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
    Think big anyway.
People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
    Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
    Build anyway.
People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
    Help people anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
    Give the world the best you have anyway."

More of my favourite quotes are elsewhere on this site.

Related pages

On this site...

Blood donation

Contribution to society

Some thoughts on death


Some thoughts on euthanasia

Self or all?, selfishness or altruism?

Suicide as a rational decision

To oppose wind power is to support fossil fuels, including especially, coal, a compassionate person would not do it.

Walking for climate change awareness: cleaning up the roadsides at the same time.

Why I support the local wind farm and why any other compassionate person would do the same.

External sites...

Why Do Human Beings Do Good Things? The Puzzle of Altruism", by Steve Taylor; he suggested that the answer could be empathy.