Thursday, June 8, 2017

Compassionate Service: Sometimes It's Better To Do Nothing At All

by John Boodhansingh of Zero Mindfulness

We’ve all done things that we shouldn’t have: lying, cheating, punching others—just to name a few that the average person partakes in. But there’s a whole different category of uncalled-for behavior that doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves.

This is our speaking and acting from a false sense responsibility—when we speak or act believing it’s to someone’s benefit when it’s really to their detriment.

The Mailbox Overfloweth

One example of this false responsibility is as follows. Please apply the theory to any aspects of your life as appropriate.

Suppose where we live the mailboxes are located at the street, a fair distance from the houses. And when we go for a walk one day we notice that our neighbor hasn’t bothered to collect his mail for a few days.

The box is over-full and we worry: What if it rains? It could all get wet. He could have important documents in there. What if the mail carrier runs out of space to put the newer mail? What if someone steals the mail in the middle of the night?

This seemingly reasonable concern prompts us to do our neighbor the favor of taking his mail to him. He’s perfectly capable, we see him out and about all the time, but, well, look at what could happen if Mr. Neighborman doesn’t collect his mail. So we deliver his mail directly to him, maybe he thanks us, and it’s done… Until next week… And the week after that… And the week after that…

Why We Do It

We think that our motivation for performing such an act is kindness; we think we’re doing a good thing looking out for our neighbor’s highest and best, protecting him from unnecessary discomfort. We know how much it can suck to have soaking wet mail or to get a letter from someone who’s charging us a late fee on a bill we can’t recall receiving. Plus, we’re friends with the guy—we’re just showing concern and being helpful.

Trouble is, this is all faulty and irrelevant reasoning.

The real reason we do it is because we carry a false sense of responsibility.

For one, we may carry the “savior mentality,” an unwittingly inherited trait carried by most people due to our strong dependence on religion, government, and many other forms of “authority.” We’ve been taught that we’re not good enough as is and need help from a “greater power” (whatever that may mean). One way this sense of lowliness effects itself is by causing others to appear to us as helpless and in need of our support.

Similarly, we may unconsciously fear things like guilt and criticism. Even if our neighbor isn’t going to send us on a guilt-trip or criticize us for not hand-delivering his mail—such a thought would probably sound ridiculous to him—our current experience may be subconsciously reminiscent of traumatic false responsibility experiences from our childhood. Looking within we’d see that our parents had forced false responsibility onto us and would really lay on the guilt and criticism when we’d said no.

Which leads us to a third aspect of false beliefs. Whether because as a child it had seemed rational or had been done for self-protective purposes, we may have taken on beliefs such as:
  • To be worthy of love, I must be “a helpful person.”
  • If I think it should be done, and someone’s not doing it, it’s my responsibility to help them, to show them the “right way.”
  • Mom and dad would rip me apart if they know I didn’t help.
  • It’s my responsibility to prevent hardships of others.

False responsibility can also come down to self-image. If we believe we’re worthless, we may seek to help others under the pretense that external approval will finally make us feel “good enough.” If we perceive ourselves to be helpless, we may try to help others without waiting for a request for help because they appear to us too incapable of doing certain things themselves. False responsibility may also be quite arrogant, like the religious zealots who go door-to-door preaching that their way is the only way and nearly refuse to take no for an answer.

Lastly is the possibility of hypocrisy: We think we see in others the very things we unconsciously see in ourselves but would rather not admit openly. We therefore seek to change our external world as a means of “destroying the mirror” and ending our discomfort. We do this by telling others what to do and how to do it and try to get them to do things in ways that justifies our self-protective mindset.

Altogether, such a load of perception-skewing baggage can really throw off any healthy sense of responsibility.

Compassion and Self-Inquiry

Truth is, a fair portion of what we call “help” and “service” is not actually positive in nature. It can’t be because we’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

On our part, this “help” doesn’t serve us because to behave in such a manner we must buy into trauma, fear, and false beliefs. Since these things are inherently negative, word and action founded in them must create a negative outcome.

Our “help” isn’t really helping others, either. As with the mail example, we have no idea why our neighbor doesn’t get his mail, and he’s never specifically requested that we get it for him. He’s always around and about and goes past his mailbox quite regularly. And the fact that his mail could get wet or fall into the gutter should be obvious to anyone with at least half of a brain cell. Unless the guy had recently experienced some unbeknownst-to-us trauma and now fears his mailbox could blow up if he opens it, he may well have become lazy or careless or be craving attention—any of which imply that our “help” is only serving to support his egoic nonsense.

In our modern day, we synonymize giving help with compassion. But if we can understand that our services are not always for the good as we may believe, then we can see that neither are we necessarily being compassionate.

What, then, is compassionate service?

Compassionate service is heart-based. Meaning, it’s help without the involvement of self-interest, fear, false beliefs, approval-seeking, etc. and has the quality of intuitive awareness of appropriate action in any given circumstance.

As for what the heart says is “good service” or “bad service” doesn’t exactly matter right now in the sense that what people believe, perceive, and are willing to act on or avoid is so varied and subjective. Were anything too specific noted here—this necessitating only examples that my own heart offers—some folks would agree completely and some would think the suggestions to be mean-spirited.

We would all be better served by self-inquiring as to how we serve others, why we serve others, and what we’re trying to get out of it. We’d be best off making a practice of this, probably needing some quiet time and journaling at first. As we do it we’ll find that our perception will evolve to provide us the heart-centered discretion of knowing when to speak up and when to keep quiet, when to act and when to sit still, for optimal good. At a point, correct action in any given circumstance will come to us spontaneously.

Intense Non-Action

As we become clearer internally, we find that people generally have a lot of unhealthy behaviors and manifest a lot of discomfort for themselves. Although the cause of these things is typically unconscious, there is the truth that the way their lives are unfolding is a choice they are making.

It is very possibly that when we see others hurting themselves the impulse will arise to change it, to fix it, to end it—they hurt, and we feel hurt because they hurt—especially when it’s a loved one.

This is where true compassionate service, where “intense non-action,” may be pivotal. For although, say, a family member is causing his- or herself all sorts of struggle, heart-centered guidance may tell us, “Do nothing. This is not yours to deal with.”

Sometimes we simply need to accept that just as we are learning our life lessons in our own time, so must others learn their lessons in their own time. Attempting to help another who does not choose it is often interference that ends up creating resistance to improvement and/or supporting even-negative-attention-is-valuable-attention egoic programming.

Compassionate Service Doesn’t Always Feel Good

In every case, the highest help we can give to others comes in first helping ourselves. Through which we see that the greatest service we can sometimes provide to others is saying and doing nothing at all. Because sometimes compassionate service is about sidelining ourselves and allowing people to clean up their messes in their own time.

Can it be upsetting? You bet.

But if it’s the heart’s guidance, then letting go is truly compassionate service.


  1. Ugh, yes, have to act like a perfectly helpful and thoughtful person to be deemed worthy! ;-)
    Once that need for external validation and approval has healed, it's OK though to get back to picking up that mail for your neighbor, now from a healthier place. The thing is, most folks are so preoccupied with their lives that they don't notice small things they could do that could be of great help to others or to the whole community. It makes a difference to a community when someone has enough presence and space in their mind to notice and do those little things everyone misses, without expecting anything, just "out of love".

    Still have to tell myself "this one is not your responsibility" from time to time. ;-) Achieving a healthy balance takes time.

    And then there are the unhelpables: those who either don't really want to heal, or the extreme case: those who manifest their own problems to get others' attention/help/pity in order to feed on others' energy in the process. So hard when a family member is one of those... but we've got to disengage in this case, for our own sanity.


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