Monday, February 27, 2006

Accountability and Compassion

Events of late have me thinking a lot about accountability and compassion.

We are all accountable for our actions. Nobody has to hold us accountable. We just are. The universe is made that way. When we make decisions and take actions, we put the universe into motion. You throw your rock, you make your splash...and then the ripples come. The old phrase, "It's time to pay the piper." comes to mind.

I'm not talking just about punishment, though there are times when that is one consequence of our actions. The ripples that are less direct are often more painful because they're so far-reaching. A punishment, like a jail sentence, for example, is finite. You do something, you get caught, you get convicted, you serve a sentence for X amount of time, and you're done. True accountability, on the other hand, has no time limit. It is the result of the universe set in motion by our actions. Sometimes the pain is direct. Sometimes it comes from watching others suffering because of something we did. It can be harsh and brutal.

Compassion is the act of recognizing that a fellow traveler took a turn that caused them pain. It's acknowledging that we, too, have taken and will take many such turns, and will suffer our share of pain. It's knowing that, inevitable as the consequential suffering is, it's the way most of us learn the most important lessons in any lifetime. It's actively hoping that the lessons are learned and not repeated.

We all pay the proverbial piper, all the time. And yet, when someone does something we clearly find unacceptable, makes a mistake we haven't made personally, and we see them suffering because of it, it's easy to feel superior. If we or someone we love were injured by their actions, we may even feel a little thrill at their discomfort. But is that good for us? I don't think so. It may not be possible to feel purely compassionate, but I believe we should actively cultivate compassion because it's spiritually healthy and emotionally healing. When I focus on compassion, it helps to keep anger, hurt, and betrayal from consuming me.

The definitive example of compassion, for me, is in the movie, "Dogma." [Heartsong's note: My daughter recently told me I have the actors/characters reversed in the following recap. I remember the story clearly; it's the faces that are fuzzy. If you are bothered by such (alleged) inaccuracies, be warned.] Matt Damon's character is an angel who has been banned from heaven for eternity. He and his fellow heavenly expatriate (played by Ben Afleck) have come up with a scheme to get back into heaven. It doesn't work and both characters go a little nuts when they realize they'll probably never get another chance to go home. Loki (Matt Damon) is now facing God (Alanis Morrisette). He has violated all the rules and now God's going to destroy him. He's is heartbroken and tearfully explains that all he wanted was to go home. In the silent interchange between Loki and God at that moment, we're shown the very heart of compassion. God looks at him with eyes that say, "I wish it could be some other way." Loki says simply, "Thank you." God nods...and destroys him. Loki was accountable for his actions. There was no escaping that. Yet the same God that understood there could be no escape from the accountability still felt the pain and acknowledged it.

We don't have to punish. The universe will do that. We have but to be accountable for our own actions, try to do what's right, and be compassionate toward those who are paying their piper. May they grow in wisdom as we, hopefully, grow from our own accountability.


  1. This is something that I struggle with greatly. I have noticed that I spend a lot of time lately, harboring negative feelings towards people that have done things or said things to me that caused me pain or embarrassment. Just within the last week or so, I've decided that I was truly letting those feelings consume me and have since let them go. I feel much better. The world is a better place when you surround yourself with positive energy and thoughts. Very well said, my friend.

  2. Thank you for reading, for your comment, and for adding your positive energy to the world. Every time another person decides to put aside negativity in favor of a positive, life-affirming action or attitude, it benefits everyone. You throw your rock and then the ripples come...

    Love and light,


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