Lessons in Compassion from a Rasta


“Life is full of good, bad and ugly,” said the Rasta, making a sweeping hand gesture out to the idyllic beach scene in front of us, in which I could see nothing bad or ugly besides a few lobster red tourists who had been in the sun too long. “You just have to keep your mind on the good, and love the bad and the ugly even if they don’t love you back.” I bought a string bracelet from him with the Rastafarian colours of red green and yellow spelling out the words ‘One Love’. Such a Jamaican cliché, but something I have not often felt connected to in my time here. As he tied the bracelet around my wrist I thought about how much I had been wishing for more understanding, respect and compassion, but in the face of the bad and ugly experiences, how much of those things was I giving?

I have no understanding for the grown woman who kicks and throws stones at a dog who has just had puppies. I have zero respect the teacher who beats a terrified child with a belt for getting too many answers wrong. I have completely lost compassion for the man on the street who follows me home yelling that he wants to have sex with me because I am white. I want nothing to do with them. I want to close my eyes to it all and retreat into my own head to dwell in how wrong and unfair their behaviour is.

It is all too easy to forget that every single one of us is fighting a hard battle. And as that fortune-cookie of endless wisdom Gandalf the Grey Wizard said: the hardest battles are always those fought within. Other people’s battles may not be obvious at first glance, or they may not seem battle-worthy. But you can be sure that we are all battling nonetheless. Sometimes our own battle seems so immense; so insurmountable; so unjust. It can feel like there is no space left in our minds or our hearts for anyone else’s struggle, especially when no one is making any space for ours. But every battle is difficult, and it is never deserved. We have all been hurt, rejected, knocked down by life in different ways. Those that show the least compassion are the ones who most need it themselves. Perhaps each struggle is the disguised opportunity we need to learn and grow, or perhaps it’s just part of the random and harsh reality of life. Either way, we let our internal battles divide us because we forget how deeply they connect us.

A beautiful friend of mine once told me the way she tries to hold compassion for everyone she meets is to imagine we are all walking around with a painful wound under our clothes. And trying to hide or protect that wound impacts everything we say and do. I consider again the woman kicking the dog, the teacher beating the child and the man chasing me. I wonder what they themselves have experienced in their own lives and what wounds may have been left behind. It seems very likely that their struggles, their hidden wounds, are far greater, far deeper than mine.

I think of a conversation I read about between the Dalai Lama and a man who was tortured by the Chinese for many years. The Dalai Lama asks him if he was ever afraid. The man tells him, “Yes, I was afraid I would lose compassion for the Chinese.” How can anyone hold on to such a staggering amount of compassion when he was given none at all? The answer is so immediate, so unwavering, so simple, and of course its not a revelation but simply a remembrance: creating a more compassionate world has nothing to do with what you intend to get, and everything to do with what you intend to give.


9 thoughts on “Lessons in Compassion from a Rasta

  1. Oh my God, that bit about afraid he would lose his compassion for the Chinese. That is ASTONISHING, ASTONISHING.

    This is a magnificent post, really magnificent. I don’t know where it happened the woman throwing stones at a dog that had just had puppies etc, but yes, I know it happens in the world.

    Awesome post, truly awesome.

    • I know, its truly mind-boggling, and so inspiring.

      Thankyou so much for your kind words – it all happened in Jamaica, but as you say similar situations happen all over the world.

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