Hard or soft

I’ve persuaded myself that writing—be it short-form on this blog, or long-form book projects—is no longer a choice. It’s something that exists outside the realm of decision. Like the biological need to eat, drink and defecate, it’s something that has to happen, and will happen, regardless of my disposition. This is just one of the (many) ways in which I fool myself in order to attain a higher state of action, competence, being, whatever. But it does have its limits, and I’m beginning to think that they are determined by a little thing called compassion.

One of the beauties and burdens of my current situation is that no-one is compelling me to do anything. I don’t have any external mechanisms or authorities to urge me onwards. My momentum is mostly self-generated. Which presents a problem: How do I strike a balance between discipline and kindness? If there’s no-one to assign me limits or expectations, then how do I know when I go too far or do too little? The answer concerns compassion, but more specifically, it has to do with where compassion fits on the scale between hardness and softness.

Example: I wake up at 0430, do a minimal amount of work, then fall asleep until the late afternoon. The “soft” response would be something like, It’s okay, you clearly needed the rest and recovery. You’re now in a position to do better tomorrow. The “hard” response would be something like, You just wasted that day. You were up, awake, poised, but you let your environment distract you and allowed your energy to be sapped. The art of compassion is choosing when to be hard and when to be soft with yourself, and with others.

If you have a child, treating them softly could be shielding them from the consequences of their errors or ignorance. Treating them with hardness could be allowing them to get burned—sometimes considerably—by their own mistakes and missteps. To me, it is clear-cut that both courses of action are appropriate at different times. But how about we muddy the water? A farmer looks after a flock of sheep during lambing season. One of the lambs is lame. Is it compassion that allows the farmer to take the lamb’s life, ending its existence, but at the same time, ending its suffering? Is it compassion that forces a person to end a relationship with a co-dependent partner? Is it compassion that causes one friend to tell another of their defects? Sometimes a loved one needs a hug and some kind words. Other times, a loved one wants these things but would be harmed by them in the long run. Making the call, deciding what is necessary and when, is a treacherous game, but we all must play it. We must all decide when to be hard and when to be soft.