Monday, June 27, 2016
I have been thinking a lot lately about compassion. I struggle with it. More than anything I want to be a truly compassionate person but it does not come easily to me. If you consider the full spectrum of compassionate people we have known or know, there are the likes of Mother Teresa at one end, devoting her entire life to the art of compassion, with someone like Idi Amin at the opposite end - void of compassion.
Now, I know I am no Mother Teresa and I am certainly no brutal dictator and I like to think I am closer to the Mother Teresa end of the spectrum than the Idi Amin end, but I don't seem to be able to fully feel compassion for all. It's like that story/movie Dead Man Walking. I don't know how she did that. How did she feel genuine compassion for that man - a convicted murderer? I have difficulty feeling compassion for people who have never murdered anyone - people who have possibly been law-abiding citizens their entire lives but for some reason I find them annoying or boring or daft. I try to find it within myself to be less judgmental and to look for the goodness or flicker of light or inspiration in people, but I often fail. I do try. As I get older, I try even harder. I know that everyone has a story to tell. I will find myself in a conversation with another person consciously digging. Digging to mine a gem out of them. Digging to bring forth some jewel of wisdom or share something with me that reveals their essence but sometimes I get nothing.
The next time I see such a person, I dread the contact. I dread the small talk. I try to avoid yet another exchange void of anything of value to me. I feel drained by these encounters. I feel my time is stolen. Does this mean I am not compassionate enough? I find I am being tested a lot lately, like I need to go take a course or something. Compassion 101. And it does not just apply to ordinary people in my midst. It applies - perhaps even more so - to people in the media. The Orlando shooter. Terrorists. Brexit leave voters. Racists. Homophobes. Trump. The Kardashians. You get the picture.
Then I wonder - is it necessary for me to be so compassionate? Maybe my stores of compassion are all used up with my family, friends and loved ones. Maybe we are only born with a finite dollop of the stuff. That makes more sense to me because I truly feel I am scraping the bottom of the jar some days. Perhaps there are those that do not deserve our compassion and by not receiving it, it forces them to examine themselves. "Gee, I wonder why Deb avoided me today? Maybe she doesn't like me. What doesn't she like about me?" This also makes sense because by withholding compassion, I have forced someone to look within. Of course there is no guarantee they will, but it definitely increases the odds.
So maybe compassion works that way. Sometimes we are and sometimes we aren't and the people who receive our compassion benefit in an opposite way from the people who don't. This may sound like I am trying to justify my less compassionate side. Perhaps I am. All I know is there are people who lift you, inspire you and are a joy to be around and it is only natural that we would want to spend the majority of our time with them. They do not require me to withdraw from my compassion account at all and in fact seem to make deposits. AHA! That's it! Maybe that is how it works. The more time we spend being filled, the more compassion we accumulate and when it comes time to spread some around we have plenty to share.
That speaks to the whole notion of being grateful as well. If we are grateful on a conscious level everyday (and I am), does that fuel compassion? I think it does. Do you ever notice when you have endured an experience with someone you find difficult to be around, you come away even more grateful for your life than you did a few moments earlier? I do.
Maybe compassion should be viewed as a gift. A gift we give or a gift we receive. So maybe we just aren't meant to go around giving it away willy nilly.
For now, dear readers, I will pause this contemplation on the art of compassion and come back to it another day as I think it is worthy of far more examination.
See? That was compassion. A small gift to you. You can go now. :-)