Why would people calling themselves Demons put such an emphasis on compassion? How does that make sense? Firstly, as we mention in the FAQ, we reject the negative connotation of the word “demon”; we reclaim its original meaning without any good-versus-evil polarization. Secondly, we choose to focus our energetic work toward healing ourselves, the people around us, and the world at large. Compassion serves that purpose better than any other method; and the lack of compassion will prevent any chance of healing.
Compassion means understanding and sharing how another person feels, and feeling compelled to act on that understanding.
Bear in mind though that we really do not know what other people need unless we ASK. Cynics sometimes deride the words ’empathy’ or ‘compassion’ because they imply feeling a general sympathy for anyone, without regard to their harmful views, and without examining the power imbalance built in to any suffering. That criticism stands correct if you do not ask the more vulnerable or “harmed” people directly about what actions they feel would help them best.
We have seen the failure of the culture of turning inward, turning other people away, using only ironic language, and thinking only with cynicism. An endless parade of people will angrily tell you they like it that way — but you can see their unhappiness just behind the bluster. Let us repeat that point: many find it easiest to say “sure life sucks but I don’t care, grow a pair and deal with it” because they imagine that makes them tough. But what good does the toughest armor do if it has no heart inside to protect?
If we all clang around completely invulnerable, distant, so no one can touch us, we never learn how to grow stronger from within by mutual support. Once you crack open a clam shell, the clam has no moves left. It happens all the time where someone has built a tough wall of emotional protection around themselves, and they decide to let someone in, and that someone hurts them, so the wounded person says “serves me right for letting my guard down! I should never have trusted anyone.” They only had a wall to keep them from injury; they did not have the inner flexible resilience that would have allowed them to take the blow without getting so wounded. Nor did they have strategies for negotiating the experience or their recovery.
A dancer or a martial artist spends some of their time training for strength, but they dedicate equal time to training for flexibility, and they also learn the importance of working with a range of different partners or opponents. Their moves depend on the moves of the other person. In their training they learn how to shift their weight, change their footing, take a fall smoothly, and improvise. This practice prepares them for interacting with others, intimately, with less risk of getting hurt.
In the case of the dancers the success of the whole piece depends on the different performers working together, trusting each other, depending on each other. Each dancer knows that their individual success depends on everyone else succeeding as well. The same thing holds true in many large aspects of our lives: if you want clean air and water, the air and water has to be clean for everyone for a great distance around you. If you want to avoid getting shot or mugged, the community around you has to have some economic equity, wherever you go.
In fact people who take a sociopolitical stance of “independent self interest”, rejecting the idea of funding social welfare or ecological programs, completely miss the bigger picture that those programs serve their self interest. Such short-sighted people think they can avoid poisonous environments or crime by living in exclusive communities, “nice” neighborhoods, gilded towers, and remote cabins. But their world will get smaller and smaller as the population increases, and the distribution of wealth grows ever more imbalanced, and unregulated industries bring back the smog and acid rain that doesn’t stay out of “nice” neighborhoods.
This way of living coincides quite neatly with racism and xenophobia, because fear of “others” drives that retreat into exclusive and homogeneous communities. They don’t believe in compassion because their fear has them convinced those others out there mean to steal their jobs, their children, their identity, and their comfort. Perversely it also happens when neighborhoods gentrify: people who may have lived there a long time, formerly the majority, find they become excluded outsiders.Of course the fearful racists and xenophobes nearly always claim to be devoutly religious. The founding figure of their religion consistently preached charity and compassion to the sick, the poor, and the stranger, but that doesn’t seem to register with these “true believers”. They honestly think it doesn’t apply to them somehow.
Building emotional walls (clam shells) around ourselves reinforces this us-versus-them mindset. By contrast, actually getting to know people, spending time with them, reinforces the feeling that we have so much in common that we start to share their joys and sorrows, and we want to help when they run into difficulty — the very definition of compassion.
The book Division Street America by Studs Terkel paints this picture quite clearly by interviewing residents on either side of a street in Chicago that divides the city racially. An interviewee would say “those people on the other side are just filthy criminals and animals” but then they’d add “not Joe, I work with him, he’s great, we BBQ together and our kids play together — he’s not like them.” Obviously in reality Joe represents “them” just fine, because we all want the same basic things in life, such as kids safely playing, and adults working and hanging out together with no trouble. As spirit beings trying to find peace and truth in our lives, we must make a ritual practice of going out and meeting people we would not normally run into, and getting to know them. We include people different from ourselves in our social media timelines and circles, and listen to their stories. By listening, learn how to speak to them on their terms. Notice how their children and pets bring just as much humor, pride, and frustration as our own. Ask questions.
To clarify, we do not advocate “both sides-ism” when it comes to dealing with dedicated racists, trolls, and abusers. When we urge you to talk with and work with people that you perceive as “different”, we specifically do not mean for you to waste time arguing with those who only want to see you suffer. Invest your time and emotions with some consideration for your own well-being and the odds of success.
Compassion does not include allowing bad actors to walk all over you or harass anyone else. Even if you don’t want to hurt an abusive partner by leaving them; even if you hate the idea of violence as a solution; compassion MUST prioritize the protection of the vulnerable. If you think you’re compassionate for caring about the safety and feelings of racists, bankers, police, billionaires, and transphobes, for example, you have turned your back on the vast numbers of people they have harmed–and will continue to harm if you allow it.
The practice of compassion requires thoughtful attention to power structures.
We urge you to make it a point to consider this every time you read the news, every time you speak to a co-worker, every time you interact with a stranger, every time you feel inconvenienced. Think of a way to either uplift the one who needs it most, or interrupt the one who wants to take power for themselves. Over time, what started as an exercise will in fact become your new reality. What started as acting like you have compassion will seamlessly develop into true feelings, and you will reap the very real benefits, such as the realization that your world has become larger and more beautiful. You will also experience a tremendous weight lifted from your shoulders as you no longer feel any need to cut people down.
The more you consciously and ritually practice these exchanges, the better you will become at negotiating for what you need, staying open and adapting to change, and keeping a steady footing. This builds your internal flexible resilience and agility, protecting you from harm far more effectively than any wall ever could.