Compassion for evil

I cannot bear to consider a real example of this, so give you a fictional one.

In The Fall, a senior police officer visits a paedophile priest in prison, hoping for background on a suspect. The paedophile refuses it, though he would answer the questions if the Catholic police officer addressed him as “Father”. The Church had defrocked the paedophile, but he refuses to accept that this is effective; he claims to remain a priest. He says that the boys in his care desired what he did to them, and that they benefited from it, and that it was a proper discharge of his priestly functions in the care of the boys. He is resentful that his service to the community is not properly recognised, and at his imprisonment, thinking it wrongful. He speaks throughout with certainty.

What would that be like? Can we feel with such a person?

I imagine his feelings would be overwhelming anger and resentment, with a sense of his own integrity and rightness, that is, the self-acceptance which is such a boon for the rest of us. I wonder what it would be like to believe that the child-victim wanted, or deserved, the sexual attention, or alternatively that the child-victim had no value, so could be used for the man’s gratification. A man like that could destroy so many lives beyond hope of repair: his direct victims, and all their loved ones. Yet compassion is the only response, to understand the man, or to respond to him.

After all, the world is full of people with equally deluded beliefs, harmful to others- young earth creationists, holocaust deniers, climate change deniers. There are psychopaths who see no value in others. There are those who see war as the only way to defend what they value, and arms dealers, wicked souls who make profits from making and selling tools to kill people and destroy things, which are sometimes used to threaten and coerce.

The paedophile who cannot accept that following his urges is wrong, or who cannot control his urges, must be locked up until he is no longer a threat to the rest of us. The arms-dealer hob-nobs with the rest of the super-rich, and dies old and happy.

Compassion is not just a way of getting warm feelings when we contemplate those less fortunate than ourselves, but a tool for understanding the World.

Bruegel, massacre of the innocentsmassacre detail

Ingrained belief

I can never get what I want.

This is not true. I write it because it has been a belief ingrained in me, and even now I detect traces of it. It goes along with “There is only one way of getting what I want” and even “I do not deserve what I want”- I hope I have digested and passed out that last one, but it ate me for some time.

“You are so covered in scars!” said a counsellor once- but that was many years ago.

I still detect traces of it in my distress and disappointment.

One value of Affirmation is inculcating behovely beliefs. I needed “I am worthy of life” in November, I do not need it now. Delete. Substitute “I am a powerful woman”. Someone with integrity and discernment told me that, after all. Take it into my heart.

I am a powerful woman.

I went for my usual walk- across the fields, along the river, round the lakes- in wellies, as much of it is squishy mud now. I have blisters on the soles of my feet. I wondered if I was enjoying it, put the question to my emotional being, and decided I was. The sunshine was glorious. I love the green, and the birds; this is a primordial response in me, australopithecine or earlier. Even the hard work had benefits. Doing this walk for the first time in my new hair, I notice that just the slightest breath of wind comes from behind and the curtains close over my face. I look ridiculous! And- my heart is open. I am a powerful woman. I play with these thoughts as I pass people enjoying the sunshine. Once, I notice my cringe. I do not like my old cringe.

When someone asks God
"What does 'feminine' mean?"
God points at me.

I like that line. Conceivably, I am a bit high; I can see that just a bit higher for just a bit longer might frighten someone and their relatives, so that the Doctors come and make it go away with drugs. Then it becomes the shadow, the thing to avoid, and the slightest sign of it terrifies the Sufferer and the Carers, and is yet more proof of Sickness. Now, though, I am simply being creative. Delete “I am soft, gentle, peaceful” and replace with “I am Feminine“. Soft, gentle, peaceful is part of it; that word is mine, for me to colour in.

Boldini, Cléo de Mérode

Feelings and joy

eejit osteen

When you’re tempted to be upset, ask yourself, “Is this worth giving up my JOY?” ~Joel Osteen

I loathe this passionately. Almost anything Joel Osteen says winds me up. Translation: “When you are actually angry or sad or frightened, suppress that emotion and pretend to yourself that you feel joy”.

This is very different from saying that where you cannot change a situation, it is beneficial to accept it and not let resentment eat at you. Indeed. But when I feel an emotion that is useful information, and I will not suppress my emotion. And also, when angry at one part of what I see, thinking about what delights me in my experience helps me.

Incidentally, “upset” is not an emotion. Being upset or wound up is a measure of the strength of the feeling, not whether it is anger fear or sadness or perhaps disgust. It is also a symptom of being disturbed by the feeling, trying to resist it. That is why the wording “tempted to be upset” is so poisonous: it tempts us to deny our feelings, so we have no sense of what is good or bad for us.

I suppose Osteen’s point of view could have benefits if we get upset about the state of the world- the wars and rumours of wars, the inequality, the roiling sea of anger- I would say, Trust in God. All manner of thing shall be Well, and Osteen might agree. But even there, I want to acknowledge my feeling, so that I may let it go; not suppress it, so that it eats away at my Joy and everything else. If I acknowledge my feelings of helpless horror, they can coexist with my Joy; and then fade away.

Other people II

“The world does not revolve around you.”

That surprised me, actually, because I had not thought it had. In my disappointment, I had sent what I thought was a positive, exciting, winsome email, and got that back. I decided she is just wrong and thinking of ways of getting at me.

Then I wanted someone to cease to undertake a particular role. I told her that it was because I did not think asking her to undertake that role showed proper respect to the other work that she does. She would not accept that reason, though she would leave if I thought she could not do the job. That really upset me. No! I am not being passive-aggressive, or manipulative! This is my genuine reason! I am being positive and loving, and you demand that I be horrible!

Though if she wants the role, and I want her out of it, I am indeed being horrible.

In case she will not go quietly, I emailed her formally setting out my objections to her continuing, and was proud of my decisive action. I would have been far more anxious about it a month ago.

Should I go to meet with you this (Sunday) afternoon? I could, actually. I am capable; but it would be difficulty and expense I could do without, and I had requested you to meet by videolink. I had not heard back. I started my paranoid fantasy- “If you can’t attend a meeting then I can’t trust you and I can’t work with you”- but no, it would never be a reason for ceasing to work with me, even if it could conceivably be an excuse.

Then I talked to someone who knows you, and you ceased to be this powerful being who alone could grant or withhold my dearest wish, and became a human being. Though I was still stressing wildly about how could I get what I want from you. Liz said I should sit with it in the Quaker meeting.

You see I can come out with words which have the appearance of Wisdom. “What does Love require of you?” A wonderfully wise basis for action. I could construct an argument from it to do anything. I sat in Meeting. I could write you a letter- “Loving”; winsome, again; and still attempting manipulation.

It is important to start Metta with myself. In 2012 I stopped, because I found it too difficult: I could not think that well of myself. I have found it easier recently. I looked around at the others present, a number of attractive people each with their own concerns. Gosh, people are complex. I wish I understood them better- so I could manipulate them successfully, of course.

It has seemed that I made a shift in that Quaker meeting, or at least seen that a better way is possible. My attempts to manipulate come from my sense of my worthlessness, thinking I can get what I want by giving you what I imagine you want.

Someone ministers that it is Holocaust Memorial Day.

I minister that

all I have done has come from love.

It has done, sometimes sacrificially. But I have not been realistic, I have been caught in illusion- and I still may be, I am not safe from it yet- and I have been trying to get what I want by manipulation.

I am capable of more Love.

We know it has been a deep meeting.

Mirror, Mirror


I moved from illusion to reality. It is a bracing experience.

We were considering the Area Meeting Safeguarding policy, for children and vulnerable adults. We based it on the CCPAS guidelines as interpreted by York AM- no need to repeat the work. We need DBS checks on anyone holding a children’s meeting. We need to be ready for child abuse allegations.

How should an adult respond if a child makes an allegation to them?

Helpful Responses
• You have done the right thing in telling
• I am glad you have told me
• I will try to help you

Don’t Say
• Why didn’t you tell anyone before?
• I can’t believe it!
• Are you sure this is true?
• Why? How? When? Who? Where?
• I am shocked, don’t tell anyone else

Don’t say why, how etc because it is not your job to investigate, that is for experts. Don’t challenge the allegation because the child will have low levels of trust already, and any challenge will reduce trust further.

Why would I challenge the child? Because I can’t believe it. Because my trust for my community is threatened, and because I have an emotional need for that trust.

I have been tempted to view DBS checks in Meeting as unnecessary bureaucracy. They are imperfect: they do not catch people who have never been caught, and they allow employers to discriminate against ex-offenders, whose offences would formerly have been regarded as “spent”, so not affecting their employment prospects. However, they are the precaution available to us.

I can still trust my Quaker community. I have got to know the people in my Meeting. And bad things happen, and I have to be awake when they do. The emotional threat to my sense of safety or my need to feel safe must not blind me to what is actually happening.

Bad things happen. An abuser joining a meeting would groom the adults as well as the children, building trust to exploit later. This does not mean that I cannot trust, but that I must be able to set that trust aside.

Paul explained from his NHS experience that adults must protect themselves too. A teenage girl is going for the bus in the rain. “I’ll give you a lift” says the middle-aged man. No. That opens him to false allegations. It may be unlikely, but the consequences would be severe. Also, we cannot trust the man alone with the vulnerable girl: when people did, abuse happened. The volunteer wants to help and get a warm feeling. It is not worth it.

So recently, where priests and ministers were trusted completely, abusers became priests. Reality is safer than illusion.

Kings Cross Underground fire


I told Liz how important that act of kindness had been to me. Of course she was delighted. We held hands as I told her, grinning enraptured, then we hugged. However her intention had been different. I was speaking my angst and distress, imagining that as making toast is a simple task I was giving it enough attention. I was not, so I burned the first lot, then I burned the second lot. She wanted me to be mindful, to give the task the attention it actually required. So I did. Third time lucky.

The task needs the attention it needs.

I remember I was irritated with myself for burning the first lot, and apologetic, but this was not enough to make me take care the second time. Possibly it was that I wanted more to speak my angst than to do the task.

I achieve what I actually want.

So I have added to my Affirmation:

I know what I want, and I take steps to achieve it.

Pompeii, the baker and his wife


The Hungarian woman I talked to on the train shocked me. “I like talking to people on trains,” I announced, and she had no objection. “Do you like yourself?” Well, it is what I want to know.

She thinks she does. She notices that people in England tend to be unhappy in their twenties and thirties, taking on their parents’ neurotic fears. “The sins of the fathers are visited on the children” I quote, and she assents. In Hungary too. Even for people born after 1990? Yes, because the school system is the same as it was before. She blames the politicians. It is better now she is forty. She has degrees in biochemistry and nursing, and was head of department, yet earned £300 a month when the prices were the same as here. She was living on toast.

So she came to England, and worked cleaning ten hours a week, because she spoke no English. She refused to claim any benefits. Now she works as a nurse: her accent is noticeable but comprehensible, and her vocabulary fluent.

She finds the politicians here too lax on immigrants. That shocked me. People born here should be able to claim benefits because their parents and grandparents paid in, but immigrants should not.

At St Pancras, I always check out the policemen’s weapons. I have not seen guns lately, but today they are in black rather than hi-vis, and the clubs at their belts seem bigger than normal. Then I saw two men with rifles. I asked why. One, well over six foot, replied courteously enough that they were there to disrupt criminal or terrorist activity, hoping not to use the guns but able to if necessary; the other faced away from us in an alert pose. I don’t like it.

I went to see Stuart Lorimer at Charing Cross. I told him of Essence, and he said I appeared serene. I told him of wanting to clean my teeth because I wanted to, and he assented. So now I stay at home, I will have coffee with friends two times this week, I join the Quaker meeting and the Green party.

“Both lovely organisations”, he assents. “It sounds a lovely lifestyle. Stress is overrated. I am on my first day back from three weeks away. I was reclining by a pool, and I thought that I could go to museums and archaeological sites, and I did not want to. I just wanted to stay by the pool.”

I don’t feel I am suppressing emotion- he says that is not how I appear. I wonder if there could be more to life. I don’t want anything particularly. It is not that I feel dissatisfied as that I assess intellectually that most people aged 48 would want more.

He suggested seeing a clinical psychologist for counselling when I first saw him, and this has not transpired. He will chase them up. What would I want from these sessions?

I want to know what I want.
-An existential question.
-Is it an appropriate question?
-Yes, I think so.
-I saw a counsellor in Marsby. She wanted me to set goals.
-Goals are also overrated, he says.

He would like to see if this serenity persists. I believe it will, I say. I am in truth telling mode, knowing the truth of it as I say it. Actually, given that my inner critic was nagging me to get a job continually to November, and I was in my sulk, perhaps merely accepting and enjoying my quiet life is worthwhile.

Clanking back slowly on the Piccadilly Line, I feel absolved. It is OK to be doing what I am doing. It is a lovely feeling. It has been quite a pleasant day, on the buses, trains and tube.

He is compassionate, and I bloom. Just like then.

Monet haystack, white frost, sunrise

Not inadequate

Feeling inadequate was so long my default position. I responded by seeking always to be in control, at last by retreating from the world. This morning I avoided control, chose what I wanted though it might not have worked, and felt liberated. It seemed important:

I wanted to cycle this morning. My front tyre was just hard enough to ride, but when I pumped it to harden it further there was a hissing noise. Is it slow punctured? I would be later than arranged with Richard, and could not let him know because he did not answer his phone or have an answerphone. It was about the best day for cycling I would get in January, forecast sunshine with light winds. I felt I wanted the exercise and the challenge, and decided it was not my inner puritan driving me. I liked the exercise, and the frost on the grass and hedges, and the view over the valley in the sunshine.

And it felt like had I been Seeking Control, I would have caught the bus: it would have got me to the café on time. I would have fulfilled my obligation unquestionably. Richard said he was scrutinising each person coming in, disappointed it was not me: I felt a pang at that, because I have felt the same way.

Coming back it had clouded over. The direct sunshine makes such a difference: I was cold, it was a slog, and at home I put on my coat and stuffed a hot water bottle inside it. I warmed up well enough.

It seemed I had done what I wanted, even if it were not sensible, and taken a risk, which made me uncomfortable but was alright; and so I am pleased with myself. I have learned more about dressing for cycling. Being sensible is not as overwhelmingly important as I had feared.

Monet Haystack, snow effect, overcast day

Compassion in action

Compassion is not just feeling with someone, but seeking to change the situation. Frequently people think compassion and love are merely sentimental. No! They are very demanding. If you are going to be compassionate, be prepared for action!

Quote from Psychology today, hat tip to Melissa.

When I was a volunteer just starting doing benefits tribunals, some of us met up in Edinburgh to discuss our cases. Each would start by describing the client’s situation, and each time a woman would drawl, “How Ahful! AHful!” I did not know who she was, she made no other contribution that I could see, and I hated her: we were taking practical action, and she seemed to be enjoying the feelings we evoked, even getting a mild high.

Compassion is seeking to change the situation, but it starts with the feeling. Only the feeling would motivate me to action.

I was driving home from a dance, and heard on the midnight news that Rwandan troops had attacked a Hutu refugee camp, which I later heard had been thought to harbour the Interahamwe. I screamed. News can be horrible, more likely producing a depressive apathetic withdrawal, but sometimes it gets under my skin. There was nothing I could do: I was doing good in the world elsewhere, and had to be satisfied with that.

I saw a beggar yesterday, who asked for money for food, and I refused her. I feel a similar depressive reaction, cutting off feeling from action.

Swanston does not have a homeless shelter, but when the temperature is forecast to drop below freezing three nights in a row a temporary shelter opens in the churches. Liz volunteers there. Three people came in, and after they closed their doors at 10pm the police brought in a Romanian man who had been working on building sites and had been attacked and injured while homeless. He is entitled to nothing. Later, the police called: they had stopped someone from jumping from a great height, and they wondered if the shelter could take him in. The volunteers discussed it, and decided they did not have the necessary mental health skills. There was nowhere else for the police to send him. We do what we can.

I feel more than I feel able to do.

El Greco, the agony in the garden


So many trips to London!

On the crowded train home, I sit with two women staring at their phones, and a girl of five who sits quiet and composed, though a little bored. I smile at her, and soon get chatting to her mother. Amanda is always quiet like this, outside the house. At nursery school, she would say nothing at all, nodding or shaking her head. So Katherine, her mother, told them to ask open questions. They asked how old she is, and she held up four fingers.

Then one of the girls who work at the nursery babysat for her. The young woman was in the kitchen, and Amanda had not realised she was here. Amanda shouted out to her two teenage brothers, out in the garden, to Get Off That it’s My turn. She shouts at her brothers, no-one will believe how wild she can be, says the mother fondly- but when she is out, she is quiet.

They have just been to London to meet Katherine’s mother in law. Katherine does not like her mother in law, who wants Amanda to wear pink, and flouncy skirts. So Amanda wore a pencil skirt, to wind up her grandmother- knee length boots and a leather jacket. Amanda wears what she likes.

Amanda gets out “Mary Poppins”, a new hardback with a retro binding, and leafs through it.

I have been considering ways to tell my transsexual story, of self-acceptance. “It is a universal story”, says Katherine. I say TERFs are hostile, and she thinks feminists should be delighted with me, even if off the scale feminine. I say something of the TERF perspective, and she responds with common sense, saying I am not a threat. There are two views: patriarchy- women are oppressed; and kyriarchy, just about everyone is oppressed. She sees some sense in the former. Until the mid-eighties, a woman could not claim Invalid Care Allowance for looking after her husband, because it was just her job. A man could claim it for looking after his wife. She is indignant. She did some feminist study as part of her degree.

Her father was a chauvinist, thinking her only possible role was as a wife. She married as soon as she could, a man fifteen years older, who had been in prison twice. Only then she realised that she had married out of spite. She was divorced by twenty.

-You are as unfree if you rebel as if you conform, I say. She agrees: she gets all this stuff.

It is a universal story, self-acceptance, and Katherine, having done it, is bringing up Amanda to be self-accepting from the start. Amanda is queen at home, where she is comfortable, and prudently watches how the world works when outside, meanwhile cultivating an attractive air of mystery. She will be amazing.

Margaret Macdonald, the white rose and the red rose