Can one be assertive with compassion?

I have been reflecting a lot these days about the nature of compassion and how it is really not about being ‘nice’. It struck me just how much the two are conflated in popular culture. There are times when tough messages have to be delivered with assertiveness and courage. And, this can still be very compassionate! They really are not mutually exclusive.

Why so rude?

As a child growing up in Sri Lanka, I remember reading stories about Buddha using phrases like “ignorant one!” and “you fool!” when engaging with certain people. I was always puzzled by this language. Puzzled by how one supposedly so compassionate, could speak in such a harsh and abrasive manner. I only understood much later in life. I realised that externally observed surface-level behaviour and one’s internal state are not the same.

It is precisely because of compassion that Buddha is likely to have spoken as such — in order to have maximum effect! Perhaps, to make the individual WAKE UP! Or, perhaps to stand-up for the truth when certain people were endangering the lives of others. So, there is both compassion for hostile interlocutors and compassion for humanity more generally.

You will know where you stand

Whatever the spoken words, what determines if it is compassionate is your inner state — the intention behind the words. Are your words and actions in the moment guided by a desire to be right and ‘win’? Or, rather by the pursuit of truth and care for fellow man?

In the end, only you can know where you stand. Others may incorrectly view your actions as this or that, but you will know the truth for yourself.


life coaching londonHarsha is a 1:1 coach and independent thinker based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives — to cut through the noise, in a world so full of it. Harsha’s new book, Machine Ego: Tragedy of the Modern Mind, is now available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.