Compassion and Discipline

by Michael McGinnis

My new cat, Miss Kitty, is also my new teacher. After I brought her home from Whitehorse, she vanished into the basement and stayed hidden when I came around. At first, I left food and water in the basement, and hoped that the cat would get used to her new home and become more sociable. It didn't work the cat ate the food and scrambled into her private hole in the wall when I came by. Compassion alone wasn't working; something more was needed.

My next step was to move the food upstairs. I figured when Miss Kitty got hungry that I would look more like a friend if I was the source of her food. I discovered that the food was vanishing, even though there was not supposed to be any way for the cat to get to it. Finally I discovered that she was getting into the kitchen by climbing through the hole in the floor that the kitchen pipes pass through from the basement. However these visits were anything but social calls, as they were conducted in the dead of night and resulted in smelly calling cards left on my rug that I came to dislike cleaning up each morning.

Now that I have fixed the hole, Miss Kitty has changed her behaviour when she sees me. Instead of running away, she enjoys my food and company. But to get to that point I had to set limits on the cat's behaviour develop discipline, as well as show compassion.

Our relations with animals mirrors our treatment of people. Just as we don't immediately condemn a cat for messing on the rug, we shouldn't condemn someone for making a mistake even a big mistake. After all, what are we here for if not to learn and make some mistakes along the way? We are used to giving compassion to our pets as they are obviously dependent on us. Our spiritual guides or guardian angels whisper to us to take the compassionate path when we have a choice. We also have to learn from experience how to harmonize compassion with discipline.

Problems grow when compassion and discipline are not used in tandem to teach accountability. One example of this is seen in prisons: when discipline exceeds compassion, the result is that inmates are punished but do not learn how to act more responsibly. Many commit more crimes after they leave prison. Compassion without discipline is equally problematic. Peace-keeping intervention by the UN into wars where neither side wants peace is one instance. When each side wants only to destroy the other side, peace-keeping prevents the warring people from learning the tough lessons they chose by having a war in the first place. So an opportunity for greater responsibility is deferred, and the personal karma of irresponsible actions increases. People who are having problems need to learn responsibility. This is best done with the help of others who teach using a blend of discipline and compassion.

Some day each of us may have the chance to serve as someone's guardian angel. Whenever you can find the balance between compassion and discipline needed for the best result from a difficult situation, you are developing your ability to help others.

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