Why Belle Gibson deserves our compassion

belle_gibson_compassionPhoto from here

Unless you live in a humpy, you’ve probably heard about Belle Gibson – she (in)famously lied about having cancer while promoting her app, The Whole Pantry.

Since then, many of her stories have unraveled to reveal that most of what she claimed isn’t true. Belle just appeared on 60 minutes last night, which reignited all the media/social media abuse and public anger. My opinion? Belle deserves our compassion.

Before you get all rage-y and start querying my sanity, let me add a clarification:

having compassion for someone doesn’t mean condoning what they have said or done, or letting people act without consequence.

It means recognising a common humanity – which Kristin Neff describes as acknowledging “that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience”  To recognize a common humanity is to treat all people with respect – even when you’re angry and upset with them.

 

I don’t know if you guys have been following either a) Belle or b) the media articles about her, but holy crap! The aggressiveness, insults, and straight-out shaming has been insane.

I understand that people are very angry, hurt, outraged and shocked about finding out that she lied about having cancer – and they’d like to see some consequences for her actions. However, shaming someone (especially publicly) is not a helpful, compassionate or effective way of changing their behavior. Brene Brown says that:

“Shame is about anger and blame, not accountability and change”

and rather than encouraging someone to make amends, actually just leads them to feel “intense pain, isolation, and fear”. So if you’re upset with the action that someone has taken, and would really like to see them being held accountable for their choices, shaming them probably isn’t going to have the desired effect.

 

Here’s an opinion from someone who knows a bit about compassion – the Dalai Lama

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”

I’m inclined to agree with him. Compassion isn’t something we should give only to those who are ‘good people’ or who ‘deserve it’. Everyone deserves compassion – even those who we perceive as having done something ‘wrong’. I mean, I get it: it’s hard. It seems reasonable to have compassion for a young child who has been rendered homeless by a natural disaster. But a person who deliberately miss-led a lot of people and made a lot of money in the process? That’s a bit more difficult. Does that mean we should stop trying and revert to name-calling? I don’t believe so.

We’ve all made mistakes. We all will make mistakes in the future.

some big, some small. I fully believe that we should be held accountable for our choices, and in the context of big mistakes that might mean things like paying fines or even going to jail – and this holds true for Belle in her situation. But because someone made a choice that you (or even the majority of our society, or our law) disagree with, doesn’t mean that insults, name calling, threatening and shaming are OK.

What do you think about this? Do you reckon everyone deserves compassion or do some choices leave the chooser undeserving of compassion?

 

2 Replies to “Why Belle Gibson deserves our compassion”

  1. The difference here, is that Belle neither owns nor recognises any culpability or even responsibility and she continues to be in an apparent state of denial regarding her part in the consequences to others of her choices. Instead of delight that she has not got cancer she is in “grief”. She has not asked for forgiveness. She has not accepted responsibility. So, temper your compassion with that.

    1. Thanks for your comment, s. That’s entirely my point though – I don’t believe that someone has to ask for forgiveness or accept responsibility to deserve compassion. I do, however, believe that Belle needs to be held accountable for her actions. Brene Brown says this about compassion and boundaries:
      “The heart of compassion is really acceptance. The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become. Well, it’s difficult to accept people when they are hurting us or taking advantage of us or walking all over us. This research has taught me that if we really want to practice compassion, we have to start by setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their behavior.
      We live in a blame culture—we want to know whose fault it is and how they’re going to pay. In our personal, social, and political worlds, we do a lot of screaming and finger-pointing, but we rarely hold people accountable”

      I think the online judging/blaming/name-calling actually does less to create an effective consequence for someone who’s broken a social, moral and legal code. I’d really like to see Belle be held accountable for her choices.

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