Compassion is power, but I'm power-averse
This is a tricky personal conundrum of mine. I'll try to articulate it clearly.
I believe in compassion, and I want to live in harmony with compassionate tendencies inside. But at the same time, in the act of extending compassion, there appears to be an in-built power gradient: the "giver" is somehow in an "advantaged" position, and the receiver a more disadvantaged one.
An example. I was once in a fast-food restaurant, waiting to order, and I saw the order-taker was obviously new and very nervous and skittish at her job. So after I placed my order I expressed how much I appreciate her service and that I thought she was doing a good job. It was truly what I wanted to say, and I thought she took this well, like, she looked more relaxed as she beamed.
But then there was a power gradient. I gave her something that she wouldn't/couldn't have given me. She was the more distressed one, and this power gradient emphasized that. I don't mean that bystanders were made more conscious of her distress. I mean, it had the potential to make me more conscious of my privilege and her her lack thereof.
And I'm aversive to power. I can be highly sceptical and critical of power. I don't feel easy to have power over someone else. I have had troubled relations with power figures in my life. I easily confuse the natural, benign activation of power with the reflexive, defensive, "shields-up" reaction that I often find myself in. To explain a bit, the latter is really a form of anxiety, perhaps a trauma from experiences of hypercompetition, isolation, and emotional neglect in the past.
In the end, I thirst after commonality, equality, brothersisterhood, close and meaningful contact with others as they are, as human beings, on level ground, side by side, sharing the common condition in our vulnerabilities... But there's this aspect of my character, i.e. the tendency to get tense and look for a "higher ground" and occupy there, just to be on the safe (more powerful!) side. There's this haughty, difficult-to-approach, high-brow me, that I feel get in the way.
I fee sad and somewhat confused about this. I think I'm partly venting, partly asking about your similar experiences. Please consider this topic fairly open-ended. If you have something to say about it, I'm eager to listen to you.
Compassion isn't power. You had power over the server in your example because of your money, and because we are social animals.
Consider: you could have told the server that she was doing a terrible job and that she should be fired. You would have also changed how she was feeling.
The power wasn't in the compassion, but you choose to use your power compassionately.
I have two things to say about this:
Also, I think it is good that you question yourself even in an act of kindness. That, to me, shows that you don't really want to exercise this power solely to your advantage (even to hold a "high ground"). Fighting against hierarchies means that we also have the duty to question our acts, but don't let that make you feel sad, on the contrary, I think that is a good measure of sanity :-) .
Thank you for reading and asking me questions. (BTW I think the beauty of mathematics is an art of asking questions -- perhaps that's your gift :))
To answer the first, I think compassion is a kind of spiritual power. I don't think it's a bad thing to feel compassion towards those who hold more (worldly) power. By itself it may not break the shaft of oppressive power, but this act may help us get in better touch with why we choose to resist some powers. I think on this I agree with what you said,
The second question is harder for me. Thank you for reminding me of the choice, which, to be honest, I'm not always mindful to. Perhaps that part of the fear of confusing genuine, voluntary act of kindness with my "reflexive" defence.
Thank you for your wisdom, @wise.
Is compassion really power, or is it mutual aid? Right now you're in a position to help others, but fortune is fickle and you might find yourself needing help later on.
I can totally stand by this. Thank you!
Indeed, I often fail to accept help gracefully.
I think this is a really good question.
Edit to clarify, I'm taking your words but applying it more generally.
I think there's a power to accepting help too. You can be there for someone, but they have to accept it too. There is power in that choice. Often, in my experience, I'm not offering the solution, I'm offer a solution (or just part of one). How they wish to proceed or not is always up to them.
And though she wouldn't/couldn't return it one for one, it doesn't mean she cannot contribute to your shared relationship.
Edit: power is sort of a weird way to think of it for me. I think letting go of the thought that it's power will make it not.
It's so kind of you to remind us of this. It's true.
I this this must be the case, but it will take time to change my old ways. I feel that, wounded by power in the past, I was kinda marked by a scar, and I see its shape in all the patterns I recognize. Maybe this makes me a sorta "wounded healer". But you're right, it doesn't have to be that way. One can retain the ability to heal without keeping oneself in the wounded stance. It will take time.
A Lion lay asleep in the forest, his great head resting on his paws. A timid little Mouse came upon him unexpectedly, and in her fright and haste to get away, ran across the Lion's nose. Roused from his nap, the Lion laid his huge paw angrily on the tiny creature to kill her.
"Spare me!" begged the poor Mouse. "Please let me go and some day I will surely repay you."
The Lion was much amused to think that a Mouse could ever help him. But he was generous and finally let the Mouse go.
Some days later, while stalking his prey in the forest, the Lion was caught in the toils of a hunter's net. Unable to free himself, he filled the forest with his angry roaring. The Mouse knew the voice and quickly found the Lion struggling in the net. Running to one of the great ropes that bound him, she gnawed it until it parted, and soon the Lion was free.
"You laughed when I said I would repay you," said the Mouse. "Now you see that even a Mouse can help a Lion."
The title is a problem of your own making. Compassion isn't "power", and thus, you being power-averse makes no sense here.
Compassion is just that, human compassion. If you want to be compassionate, then do so. There is no need to frame it in terms that you are uncomfortable with.
In no way does it give or take "power".