There are many ways to be strong. When we feel lazy, we work despite it and develop our work ethic. When we are angry, we practice walking away and self-regulating before we have a calmer discussion. We know it’s unskillful to sit on our hands and wait for inspiration, and we know lashing out to be unproductive and hurtful. One kind of resilience that is often overlooked is the one against judgment, the work that strengthens compassion.
When we think of compassion, there is often a moral scale that is connected to it. We wait to be moved to compassion. When we see a baby animal suffering, our hearts melt for it. When we see a good friend going through a hard time, we feel deep empathy. It is easy to feel compassionate towards beings we see as innocent or good. But what of people who we don’t think are worthy? And whose shortcomings do we see more clearly than our own?
Putting exceptions on compassion can come from conflating the meaning of compassion with other things. You don’t need to sacrifice any of your principles to feel compassion. You can have harmful habits, deserve those consequences, work to improve those habits and still have compassion for the suffering that comes from these habits. The compassion does not mean you absolve yourself of basic cause and effect. You can feel self-empathy for your ignorance, for the difficulty and rollercoaster of inner work, for the pain you feel as a result of being imperfect and being human. This is difficult the same way choosing to work when you feel lazy is difficult.
Expanding this compassion to other people, if an acquaintance wrongs you repeatedly, you can acknowledge that they have hurt you and still be compassionate. You can be compassionate and choose to cut them out of your life. Being compassionate does not mean you need to forgive them for everything and invite them back into your life. Continuing to put up with their actions or taking on their pain as your own responsibility is not being kind to yourself. You can be compassionate for their behaviour patterns that hurt themselves and people around them. You can be compassionate for their ignorance. You can be compassionate for yourself for enduring that suffering.
When we cut all the conditions of compassion away, it can become a way for our hearts to become lighter and release the heavy weight of judgment and resentment. It isn’t like a switch, just like all other kinds of inner work. Direct the willpower you use to combat sloth or anger into facing the judgment or bitterness that arises. Let your own strength in that space surprise you.