Love Hate Relationships and the Hidden Bias in Compassion

Have you ever had a love-hate relationship?

A recent talk by the Dalai Lama captured on video focuses on defining genuine compassion and touches on the origins of love or hate in a relationship. I embed it here today where I am trying to focus on thoughts of a peaceful future.

Compassion is a difficult concept that has many faces and means different things to different people. We may love someone and think it is compassion. But that same love may turn to hatred or oscillate between the two. It is certainly true that for women, if they are a victim of murder it is most often at the hands of someone they know and at one point, loved.

In the international scene many of the leaders we love and support during one period of our history, we hate or even kill during another period. Even our international social behavior has love-hate relationships.  In my own experience some of the deepest relationships have fallen into that kind of an abyss, the love-hate relationship–no fun in the long run I think, and not the relationships that last.

In this very short commentary from the Dalai Lama, who is a modern day hero to many, I was struck by his idea that the bias introduced by attachment is what brings hatred. The bias comes in when the person we love or hate means something to us because of what they do, say or feel about or toward us. Their effect on us may be something we come to see as more important than their own development, growth, fulfillment.

If attachment is the origin of love-hate, then compassion may be the origin of peace.

Unbiased compassion would apply to people we are intimately close to as well as to our enemy. This would be the feeling that everyone, or every creature has the right to change, to grow, to get over suffering, to be happy. Something like this is how I hope our national ideals would be–that bit about equality in life, liberty, pursuit of happiness.

I’m feeling a real need to work on compassion as my next experiment, and to look for ways to help it grow in my community and my country.

What do you think about good methods to help compassion grow?

3 responses to “Love Hate Relationships and the Hidden Bias in Compassion”

  1. I’ve been reading Pema Chodron lately, and she talks a lot about forgiving ourselves – about not judging ourselves harshly for our imperfections, but just accepting where we are right now, and just being with it. It sounds so deceptively simple. 🙂 But I do believe that compassion for others begins with compassion for ourselves. And also with using our own pain and hardship as a way of connecting ourselves to others. Any time we allow ourselves to really feel our sadness, our grief, our loneliness or disappointment, it is actually an opportunity to experience the tenderness of knowing the vulnerability of others, and realizing that we’re not alone. It’s a way of finding the positive inside the negative, not by glossing over it with some kind of false happiness, but in really understanding that it’s what connects us to all other human beings.

    Thanks for asking such a thoughtful question…


    • Deborah thank you for the reference to Pema Chodron, whose work I will look forward to reading. Compassion must begin within, that is a great point you raise about the origin of understanding. I think this must be an important way to make compassion grow.



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