If I am building an orphanage for children who have no home with my bare hands and I accidentally smash my thumb with a hammer, it will hurt. It will hurt and I will cry and everyone will feel sorry for me, because of the super nice thing I was doing.
Now, if I am building again, but this time I am building a meth lab so that I can sell meth to orphans, and I smash my thumb, it will still hurt. It will hurt and I will cry, but no one will feel sorry for me, because of the super not-nice thing I was doing.
The problem is that the pain is the same in both instances. It feels the same, it is miserable and I am crying.
Why I am in pain is irrelevant, pain is pain.
We don’t really believe this though. We like to know how another person got into the position they are in, so that we can decide if they deserve our sympathy or our compassion. We want to assess things before laying out any emotional investment of our own.
I am not sure why we do this. I think that many of us would want to say that we don’t want to enable (one of the most abused reasons for not helping) the other person to keep making bad choices. We are white knights of valor and righteousness, withholding our kindness for the good of all. So brave.
If we are honest, it probably has more to do with the fact that people who get hurt (physically or emotionally) doing stupid or immoral or lazy or unskillful things annoy us, and we don’t want to offer them anything. We are actually a little bothered that they even hint at needing something from us.
But pain is pain. It hurts no matter what the motives or wisdom of the choice that caused it. It seems that we should be able to open ourselves up to someone who is experiencing this regardless of why they are feeling it.
We all know what it feels like to be in pain, to be rejected, to be abandoned, to be betrayed, to regret something we’ve done. It’s a universal thing that could give everyone some kind of common ground to stand on, but we insist on dividing it up into parcels depending on whether or not someone “deserves” to have us join them there.
What would be the harm in meeting someone in their pain, no matter what brought it to their door?
What would be the harm in doing this for yourself after a bad choice?
Can we not have compassion for others and still help them find a way to make choices that don’t bring them the same pain next time?