Passion vs. Compassion

Martha James, co-chair of the Green Party Regional Council, discusses compassion versus passion and why we need both to win elections and change the world.

Martha James
Martha James
Martha James

In the two years that I have been a co-chair of the Green Party Regional Council (GPRC), I have listened to a lot of members of the Party and have heard a lot of different perspectives. 

Before I began to listen I knew that Green Party members have a passion for saving the planet and making the world a better place. Members told me over and over again that the only way to do that was through the electoral system, which I also knew. I came to the party from a background of non-violent direct action, which is good at disrupting the system, but not for the longer-term change that the Green Party needs to make the decisions which come with being in power. The party is also passionate about winning elections.

Passion has its place, as it drives us to stand up and be counted, but it isn't an emotion that drives listening. In our passion we often convince ourselves we know it all, we are right, and that others are wrong. Sometimes, in our passion, we can convince ourselves that we are helping others, but if we look deeply, we realise that our actions are really about making ourselves happy. We know this is happening if we are in the state of telling those people what to do, or what they should think.

In our party's philosophical basis (PB306) we say ‘The interests of the minority and of future generations must be included in non-violent processes of conflict resolution in order to achieve lasting settlements’. We have to be careful that we don't act like the man walking along the street in London with a sandwich board telling us 'the end of the world is nigh'. He is doing this because he is convinced that the apocalypse is coming. He isn't interested in listening to others; he is telling us, because he thinks he has the answers. He is passionate about his religion. He is offering no compassion, making himself feel better and perhaps looking down on others who don't believe him. Acting with passion can be very damaging for others; it can alienate people, rather than bring them along with you.

But, if we want to make the world a better place, we need to have more compassion. Compassion, as we all know, is the feeling of deep sympathy for another person who is stricken by misfortune, followed by a strong desire to alleviate that suffering. The main difference between the two emotions is that passion encourages us to fulfil our own desires and wishes, whereas compassion is the desire to help others. If passion is about making ourselves happy, compassion makes us want to make others feel happy.

So, why is this important? Many of the complaints in the party's disciplinary system, the demands for suspensions or arguments, come from a state of passion. One person thinks they have the answers, and wants to tell others that they are wrong. Could it be possible that in listening, we find both sides agree on some things? Could we learn something from listening, and reach consensus?

As I have listened, I have grown and changed my views on a number of things, sometimes because of a previous lack of experience, or understanding, or thought. To be honest, I haven't always held views and opinions that are compassionate. I had closed my mind, and formed opinions based on very limited information, hearsay, or misinformation.

To make long-lasting change in society, that benefits each and everyone of us, we need to be listening to each other. I realise that hearing others thoughts takes time. I also realise that when we think we are right, it is hard to take the time to be patient. We also have to remember that whilst we should listen, it doesn't mean that we have to agree; certainly not if those we are speaking to, are acting without compassion, or bullying another member of the Party. When a member of the Party is in a listening state, they can change their mind, they can be more compassionate, and they can grow and learn from the experience of others. When you are listening, you can hear views and opinions that you hadn't heard before. If we really want to change society, we all need to work together to do that