SEASONED COMPASSION v.s. WHITE KNIGHT SYNDROME By: Jinpa Karu
“According to Buddhism, compassion is an aspiration, a state of mind, wanting others to be free from suffering. It’s not passive — it’s not empathy alone — but rather an empathetic altruism that actively strives to free others from suffering. Genuine compassion must have both wisdom and lovingkindness. That is to say, one must understand the nature of the suffering from which we wish to free others (this is wisdom), and one must experience deep intimacy and empathy with other sentient beings (this is lovingkindness).”(1)
“The White Knight Syndrome represents a strong inclination some men have to seek women who are or appear to be in need of help (usually the more help the merrier), and on his own initiative provide that help (often no matter the sacrifice), without requesting anything in return.” (2)
It is not just men that display this syndrome, as a lesbian, I too have suffered from it with the desire to rescue damsels in distress. As a practicing Buddhist, and lay practitioner that has taken the Boddhisatvaa vow; I have both an interest in and obligation to distinguish between the two motivations, and choose appropriate actions and behaviors from a place of clear view and intention.
To outline the difference of these two approaches to “assisting others”, I shall provide more details of what White Night Syndrome entails.
“With this penchant towards saving women comes a whole set of perceptions (many of them unconscious) that model the white knight’s emotions and behavior. Your archetypal white knight:
Sees women as powerless and unable to defend or take care of themselves.
Sees women’s problems as the result of misfortune or the cruelty of this world, never as their own fault. Women are never responsible for their troubles.
Considers it is men’s responsibility to help women solve their problems and sees doing so as a sign of nobility.
Thinks a woman will forever be grateful to a man who helps her. She will praise him, love him and give herself to him.
Sees men in black and white: they are either good or bad, there is no middle ground, and the decisive factor is how they treat women.
There are many clichés and stereotypes in the way a white knight perceives men and women, and this perception is indeed much more descriptive of folktales than of actual reality.
The White Knight Syndrome essentially stems from two erroneous beliefs that all white knights have in common. Deep down, they believe that 1) it is imperative for them to be liked by all women and 2) they are not good enough to be liked by women as they are.
Thus, the White Knight Syndrome ensues, as sort of a coping mechanism.
The white knight craves female approval, attention and companionship, as well as sex, a romantic relationship and perhaps marriage. But he doesn’t believe that he can obtain these things by just being himself, because he thinks he’s not good enough.
He believes he has to do something special to cope with this predicament. And the something special he discovered is trying to save women from their troubles. It’s no wonder he is drawn to women who need saving like a fly to honey.
At some level he thinks that if he can find women who are weak and in dire need of help, and he will swiftly jump in to provide that help, he will get these women to like him and give him all that he craves from them. Without him openly asking for any of it.
Even though the white knight asks for nothing in return for the help he offers and he may seem to offer it out of pure kindness or morality, make no mistake about it: he has a personal agenda, which he keeps hidden (often so well even he’s not truly aware of it). He wants something from the women he helps. Sometimes it’s only something emotional such as their approval, other times it’s something more material.
Unfortunately, to the white knight’s utter surprise, instead of providing him what he wants from women, his behavior mostly generates steep negative consequences.” (3).
To learn more about this Syndrome check out the link in the reference are from which the quoted material comes.
I started the title of this article with the word seasoned to illustrate the point that it takes true self investigation and honesty to truly understand ones inner motivations for taking vows and displaying behaviors. Oftentimes one runs into conflicts with self and others unaware of their origin. This in fact has happened to me over and over, as I truly do have compassion, seriously and wholeheartedly took the Bodhisattva Vow, but was unaware that my behavior towards women was laced with the ” White Knight Syndrome”, until a woman I was flattering responded to my behavior by simply saying White Knight Syndrome. I looked it up, and found myself on every line of the article, minus being a man of course. I merely thought I must have been a man many times in past lives to want to rescue Damsels in Distress and had no idea about the syndrome. I will be forever grateful to her for opening my eyes to a lifetime of erroneous behavior on my part. It is no wonder I sensed an inner conflict between my vow and my penchant for flattering and wooing women.
So whether you are a man or woman, Buddhist or not, I encourage you to look deeper into yourself, it just may free you to engender true compassion for yourself and others, who knows it could lead you and them to true liberation.
In the Dharma, Jinpa.