Chaplain's Corner + Self Reflection: Compassion and Civility


by Fr. George Morelli

How many of us really take the time to reflect on the things we do to others and do to ourselves in our daily lives? There are some good reasons for doing such a self- analysis. Not the least of which is that by thinking over how we may have hurt others and ourselves we may foster compassion for others in terms of the misdeeds they may have done and this in turn may lead to more civility in our evaluations of others and also in our dealings with them. It is so easy for us to justify our own aberrations while seeing the immoral, improper or wicked behavior of others. In ancient Chinese tradition Confucius (551-479 BC) sadly comments: "I have not yet seen one who could perceive his faults and inwardly accuse himself." (Analects, bk. v., c. xxvi.). On the other hand, Mencius (372 – 289 BC), the disciple and commentator of Confucius, speaks about the joys of true self-reflection: "There is no greater delight than to be conscious of sincerity upon self-examination." (Bk. vii., pt. i., c. iv., v. 2.). It is only in such sincere understanding of self that true virtue can be practiced. This helps in comprehending the meaning of Confucius' statement: "To be able to practice five things everywhere under heaven constitutes perfect virtue: Gravity, magnanimity, sincerity, earnestness, and kindness." (Analects, bk. xvii., c. vi.)

Psychologists would label such a process of reflection a self-inventory. For example, Robert Enright, PhD, (2012), notes the need for an “ uncovering phase” in which an individual lists their own faults and the consequences of them. This self-understanding promotes understanding of the factors that may have influenced others’ untoward behaviors. Such understanding nurtures compassion, and compassion fosters civility.

Religious traditions would consider such a reflection-inventory procedure to be an examination process. In Buddhism, the habit of self-examination is attainable through contemplation, a mental training exercise developed by self-introspection (http://www.sacred-texts.c...). In Christianity, the examination of conscience is critical to growth in the spiritual life. St. Paul writes: "Try your own selves if you be in the faith; prove ye yourselves. Know you not your own selves, that Christ Jesus is in you, unless perhaps you be reprobates?. . . For we rejoice that we are weak." (2Cor 13: 5, 9; trans. http://www.drbo.org). The Eastern Church Father St. Nikitas Stithatos writes (Philokalia IV)) about the fruit of self-knowledge obtained by what he calls a "cross-examination of the conscience," saying: "you gain greater knowledge of your own limitations and recognize the weakness of human nature; at the same time your love of God and your fellow beings waxes until you think that sanctification flows simply or from the proximity of those with whom you live."

REFERENCES

Enright, Robert D.( 2012). The Forgiving Life: A Pathway to Overcoming Resentment and Creating a Legacy of Love, Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.

(Palmer, G. E. H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (trans.) (1995). The Philokalia: The Complete Text; Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain & St. Makarios of Corinth, (Vol. 4). London: Faber and Faber.)