I’ve already written about how empathy and releasing blame can bring healing and peace to ourselves and others. That said, there are times that call for gentleness, and times that call for ferocity and strength.
Especially in this political climate we live in, empathy has become dangerous–because it’s too easy to collapse empathy with passivity, complacency, and inaction.
And the stakes are way too high to leave ourselves unprotected.
So let’s talk about what it means to be strong and compassionate. It’s something that, quite honestly, has taken me a long time to come to personally. But learning how to strike that balance–how to be fierce, and strong, and willing to take a stand, without losing my sense of love and integrity–has been, and continues to be, one of the most healing discoveries of my life.
Imagine an aggressive dog, backed into an alley, snapping and biting at whoever comes by. I can find a lot of empathy for that dog by understanding how hungry she is, how many times she’s been kicked, how hard she’s had to fight to survive without shelter and without support.
But that doesn’t mean I have to sit back and allow that dog to keep biting people. If she comes charging at me, I will fight back and take her down if I can, or chain her up, so she can’t hurt anyone else.
Empathy and strength can go together like this, because strength is different from hate.
Hate feels cold and icy. Strength is a roaring fire.
Hate makes our hearts tighten, squeeze, and shrink. Strength happens with a heart full of courage, bursting with power and will.
Hate numbs and blinds us. Strength snaps us to life, brings clarity.
Hate drains and depletes us. Strength fuels and energizes us.
Hate makes us want to cause harm. Strength prevents harm from being committed.
Hate says, “I’ve had enough of you.” Strength says, “I’ve had ENOUGH of this.”
It’s being able to set boundaries–and to enforce them. It’s saying, “Look, I know you might be hurting. You might have something you want or need. If you do, I’m here to listen and help. But you will not come at me with your fists flying. You do not get to harm me. If you try, make no mistake, I will shut. it. down.”
Being willing to stand up for yourself like that is a powerful act of self-love. And feeling what it’s like to stand strong yet free of hate is a loving form of empowerment.
Heck, I’ve even found that it works on myself, when my own inner critic gets feisty and starts trying to cut me down.
Now if you, like me, at any point have tried to be kind and empathetic to the point of becoming passive, it might feel funny or even wrong to get fierce and in-your-face like this. But just start from love. Think about who you’re protecting. Think about how worthy they are of being loved, and being free from harm. Then give it a try.
Like I said, the stakes are too high not to.
Don’t stay in that abusive relationship in the name of gentleness. Don’t put yourself last so often that you never really get around to you. Don’t keep tolerating behaviors and circumstances that make you feel small or harm you, or others, anymore. Don’t let anyone–not even our so-called president–take away your safety and your right to be happy and loved.