Compassion, forgiveness, these are the real, ultimate sources of power for peace and success in life.” (Dalai Lama)

…the attitude is not to withdraw from the world when you realize how horrible it is, but to realize that this horror is simply the foreground of a wonder and to come back and participate in it.” (Joseph Campbell)

After watching the painful and disturbing interview between Donald Sterling and Anderson Cooper on CNN earlier this week following the controversy over Sterling’s racist comments involving persons of colour, particular Magic Johnson, I found myself (internally) passing harsh judgement and condemnation towards Sterling – along with a good deal of pity. I am sure I was not alone with these thoughts. However, this got me thinking about how we tend to respond to such poisonous conduct and persons with judgement, dismissal and often discrimination and separation. And in Donald Sterling’s case, even punishment and banishment. I began to ask myself – from the perspective of psychological, emotional, spiritual and social health – is this the best we can do? From an ethical and utilitarian perspective, are we doing the “right” thing to ensure maximum benefits and maximum happiness for the greatest number of people? I don’t believe we are when we respond to these “poisons” (or persons) with judgement, discrimination or vitriolic statements and I think Magic Johnson has showed us how to respond with grace, respect and even a bit of compassion.

I am certainly not trying to defend Donald Sterling’s conduct, comments or what appears to be a profound level of factual and social ignorance. And it certainly makes us feel better, maybe even morally superior, to judge, dismiss, condemn and even punish Donald Sterling. But is it possible to respond in such a way where we still condemn such behaviours and attitudes, while providing an opportunity for spiritual growth which may extend to more people, including the Donald Sterling’s of the world? Can we respond in such a way to condemn the conduct and attitude, while also modelling pro-social and compassionate behaviour which benefits BOTH parties? I believe there is and it was demonstrated by the profoundly gracious response from Magic Johnson when he was also interviewed by Anderson Cooper.

Some may feel that the “lesson” from this unfortunate series of events is that being a bigot or racist, or at least getting caught making bigoted or racist comments, is personally and financially costly. However, I think there is a much more valuable lesson to be learned from this story. And when I watched the interview between Magic Johnson and Anderson Cooper, I believe I found that lesson – I believe I heard some of the “magic” which comes from a deeply spiritual, compassionate and wise human being who is capable of embracing wholeness, forgiveness and compassion rather than discrimination and condemnation alone.

If anyone has a right to lash out with vitriolic condemnation, anger and judgement of Donald Sterling, it is certainly Magic Johnson. However, he chose not to stoop to the that level and instead he was calm, sympathetic, classy, gracious, respectful and even a bit compassionate towards Donald Sterling while still making the necessary point that such racist comments and poisonous behaviours were unacceptable. I believe that is the lesson we should take from this story – there is a way to both grow as individuals emotionally, psychologically and spiritually through embracing wholeness, forgiveness and compassion while also modelling and demonstrating healthy and pro-social behaviours for those who may need them the most. And all without defending the offensive or poisonous conduct and attitudes.

For many who start out on their own pathway of psychological, emotional and spiritual health, the journey often begins with a desire to rid one’s life of the painful or poisonous obstacles, activities, environments and even people we consider impediments to our journey. I think many would agree that the Donald Sterling’s of the world represent some of these “poisons” of which we would like to rid ourselves.

Although removing self-destructive behaviours, thoughts or actions from our lives is certainly part of the journey towards spiritual health, I believe that true wisdom comes when we discriminate less, judge less and embrace wholeness and compassion more, particularly when it comes to other persons. I believe I witnessed this wholeness, compassion and wisdom when Magic Johnson responded to the recent interview between Donald Sterling and Anderson Cooper.

It is all too easy to quickly judge, dismiss or respond in anger to those we find offensive, rude, ignorant or even cruel. Although it may feel like we are condoning such behaviours by NOT judging, NOT getting angry, NOT dismissing or discriminating against such conduct or persons, we may have an opportunity to extend emotional, psychological and spiritual development from ourselves to those that need it most by embracing the poisons in our life while still condemning negative behaviours or attitudes. And if you are philosophically inclined towards Utilitarianism (as I am), then the proper course of action is always the one which maximizes utility.

It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong” (Jeremy Bentham)

Therefore, as we saunter along this journey of life, and our spiritual, personal or professional development continues to evolve, we may find that compassion, wisdom and ethics can encourage us to embrace the wholeness of life, the diversity of experience, even what we may considered the “enemies” or “poisons” of our psychological, emotional and spiritual health – including the Donald Sterling’s of the world.

By embracing wholeness, forgiveness and compassion, rather than discrimination, we just might:

  1. Increase our own capacity for real compassion and forgiveness – a significant factor in psychological, emotional and spiritual health
  2. Model and reinforce healthy, respectful and pro-social conduct for those with poisonous behaviours or attitudes.
  3. Extend the scope of psychological, emotional and spiritual health and development from just ourselves, to those who may benefit the most.

As I wrote previously, if we want to take anything away from this unpleasant and unfortunate set of events; if we want to extract a lesson from everyone involved, I think we have found that lesson in the way Magic Johnson responded. Magic showed us all something truly “magic” with his response to Donald Sterling by embracing less discrimination, a bit of forgiveness, more wholeness and even a bit of compassion. Certainly not an easy task, but maybe considering the potential benefits both to our own spiritual health and the opportunity for the Donald Sterling’s of the world to re-learn pro-social behaviors and attitudes, the effort may be worth the challenge.

Thank you Magic Johnson for showing us what true wisdom, compassion and spiritual health looks like.

Finally as our wisdom deepens, we understand that our very problems and poisons are our best teachers. It is said that the wisest beings will come looking for this poisonous tree to use its fruit as medicine to transform the suffering of the world. The energies of passion and desire, anger and confusion become transformed into the ardor, strength, and clarity that bring awakening. We understand that it is through facing the very sufferings of the world that the deepest freedom and compassion arise. What we once named poison is now recognized as an ally in our practice.” (Jack Kornfield)

We have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us – the labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.” (Joseph Campbell)

I must emphasize again that merely thinking that compassion and reason and patience are good will not be enough to develop them. We must wait for difficulties to arise and then attempt to practice them. And who creates such opportunities? Not our friends, of course, but our enemies. They are the ones who give us the most trouble, So if we truly wish to learn, we should consider enemies to be our best teacher!” (Dalai Lama)