If You Want To Be Powerful, Being Compassionate Is A Bad Idea

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Being compassionate toward others increases happiness and self-esteem and reduces stress.Self-compassion (forgiving yourself for errors vs beating yourself up) results in:

  • greater willpower and self-control.
  • reduced procrastination.
  • more creativity.

Seems pretty good overall. So why aren’t we all more compassionate?

Compassion seems to be tied to being powerless. The poor are more compassionate. Thoughts of death increase compassion. Personal tragedy grants us compassion.

Power, on the other hand, reduces empathy. Those with power don’t need to rely on the kindness of others. Compassion reduces their options.

Most of us, all other things being equal, prefer being in a powerful position — so we’re constantly at war with the idea of being compassionate. We want to be kind but we’d like to have the better options of the powerful and not be dependent

And it’s not that power is evil. We don’t necessarily want our leaders to be compassionate all the time. We know they have to make tough choices and look at the big picture.

In some ways, compassion may be just another strategy: we rely on reciprocation when we’re weak and take advantage when we’re strong. Most of us flip back and forth unconsciously and rationalize the shifts after the fact.

But compassion can also be a choice. If we want power, frankly, it’s often not the best one. But if we want to be happy — and happiness is tied to gratitude, relationships, and appreciation — it’s the better way to go.

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