One City

One City

Striving for Pure Appropriateness

Our reading for Hardcore Dharma this week (Spectrum of Ecstasy by Ngakpa Chogyam and Khandro Dechen) included a phrase I quite liked- “pure appropriateness”. It is described as follows:

We neither give too little, nor do we give too much; because we are not governed by our fears and anxieties. There is a distinct difference between the real compassion of pure appropriateness and the ‘idiot compassion’ that helps people to vegetate in long-term self-indulgence. It is ‘idiot compassion’ to assist others in remaining incapable – purely because that is what they wish to do.

Finding the right balance between giving too little and giving too much can often be difficult, but I suppose part of it is being honest with ourselves about our intentions when helping others. Is it to make ourselves feel better or useful or is it looking at what’s in the best interest of the other person?


This idea of “idiot compassion”, though a somewhat harsh term, reminded me immediately of codependent relationships, especially in regards to addiction. The codependent relationships I’ve witnessed seem to start with good intentions but eventually deteriorate into something else. One party gets used to the feeling of being needed and the other feeds off of that desire. I think sometimes the hardest, but maybe also the most compassionate thing to do when confronted with someone in the midst of pain, is to be supportive without trying to fix things or problem solve. This can stir up our own fears and anxieties, but might also lead towards growth for both people involved.

This lesson also seemed really appropriate being that I’m going into the counseling profession. We’re often told that a mistake beginning therapists make is wanting to come to the rescue, when what’s actually needed is to hang back and be empathically present with people as they search for their own solutions. But whatever the relationship, it seems like a useful check to ask ourselves if we’re encouraging others to be dependent on us and to examine our motives for cultivating these types of relationships.

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posted June 1, 2009 at 9:46 am

For me, I tend to over-give (out of guilt) when others’ pain is unbearable to watch. But when I hold back and sit with empathetic suffering, as difficult as it might be, I learn tremendously and tend to be more helpful in the long run. I also learn my need to give is more about my own pain -and my impulse to cover it up – than it is about real compassion.

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