Today, when I opened the checkbook to pay another bill, I noticed this quote from Dogbert: “Did you know that pretending to care looks just like caring?”
It made me think.
Is there a difference between pretending to care and actually caring? And does it really matter?
Religious traditions differ in many ways, sometimes significantly. But there’s a common thread that runs through them: intention, change from the inside out, that leads to “good works” (in the Christian tradition) and loving-kindness, which leads to Right Action (in the Buddhist tradition).
In Buddhism, this is addressed in the second of the Noble Eightfold Path: Right Intention (also known as Right Thinking, Right Thought, or Right Aspiration).
Right Intention precedes right action, an idea expressed in the first three lines of the Dhammapada (translation: Thomas Byrom):
We are what we think
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
The idea that outside changes are proceeded by inside changes is a thread that runs throughout the New Testament of the Bible, the result of which appears most notably in Galatians 5:22-23:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (ESV)
To embody and exemplify the fruit of the Spirit, according to the Christian tradition, one must be born again (John 3:3). At that point, one’s ability to change outwardly begins. But the outward change is preceded by an inward change.
Dalai Lama, in his book The Good Heart: A Buddhist Perspective On the Teachings of Jesus, examines Mark 3:31-35 and notes that it is an example of equanimity, the Buddhist teaching of non-attachment that leads to compassionate feelings, then actions. He writes,
I would like to point out a particular element in the practice of the bodhisattva path that might be suitable for a Christian to practice. There is a special category of teachings and practices known as lo jong: thought transformation, or mind training. There is a special way of reflecting upon the kindness of all sentient beings…p. 69)
So, again, there’s the idea that outward action is preceded by an inward setting (or re-setting) of the mind.
Legendary Tibetan Buddhist Chogyam Trungpa echoes the Dalai Lama’s teaching. In his book Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness (p. 163) Trungpa writes,
All activities should be done with one intention.
The one intention is to have a sense of gentleness toward others and a willingness to be helpful to others — always. That seems to be the essence of the bodhisattva vow. In whatever you do — sitting, walking, eating, drinking, even sleeping — you should always take the attitude of being of benefit to all sentient beings.
So, was Dogbert correct that pretending to care looks just like caring?
Yes. However, pretending is pretending. It’s not true caring.
To develop the “mind muscle” required to express compassionate thoughts, words, and deeds toward others (whatever one’s religious tradition may be) necessitates an inward change and, more importantly, a constant dwelling on the change.
Or, to put it another way, by constantly meditating on compassion toward others one’s heart will change, which will lead to an outward manifestation of compassion, regardless of one’s own feelings, or the object of compassion. Compassion will manifest consistently. The outward change is preceded by an inward change.
Merely pretending to care about others won’t bring about the kind of change the world needs. It may work for the moment. But what about the moment after that?