It Begins by Seeing Each Other as People

“We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”

— Gwendolyn Brooks

We live side by side. We go to work together, shop together, sit next to each other in movie theaters and walk past each other on the street, and we don’t see each other at all. We don’t know a thing about our neighbors or the people living in the same spaces as us. We won’t look the cashier in the eye. We don’t have the patience for other drivers on the road. We don’t care about our coworkers weekend, even if we ask. We don’t want to help. We don’t want to hear it. Hell is other people, right?

And that’s just the people we see day-to-day. Then we get online, on Twitter, on Facebook, on our blogs where people are even people anymore. We jump into the comment sections under YouTube videos and articles on our preferred news and opinion sites. We turn on the TV and see nothing but violence and feel fear.

Soon other people aren’t even people anymore. They are obstacles and annoyances. They are different and dangerous. They are the other side, the enemy. They think differently than us, they feel differently than us and anyone who is different from us doesn’t matter. They are wrong. They aren’t worth the time.

Indifference grows to hate, and people never run out of reasons to hate. They hate people because they’re brown, because they’re femme, or because they’re queer, or disabled, or transgender, or Muslim, or poor. They hate people who look different, think different, worship different. Eventually, the hated ones grow bitter, and they hurl hate right back in return. The hate mixes with fear, and they fight, some with fists and guns, some wielding the law.

I’m angry, and I am full of hate too. It grows every time I turn on the news, and I’m tired of it. But as angry as I am, as scared as I am, and as much as I want to shut out half of the world, and as many solid reasons as I know I have to do so, I’m not convinced it’s the right way. I’m not sure that isolating myself from the people who I don’t like, that I don’t agree with, that I don’t want to acknowledge, dignify, or give space to will make the world a better place. I’m not sure that going on hating all those people will change them.

I know what they think of me, and convincing them otherwise is close to impossible, but every so often one is converted, and it happens more and more every day. It’s my job not to just stand up to them, but to convince them, help them, educate them.

To open yourself up this way is exhausting, I know. To have to explain yourself your needs and to in turn give space in your life for such hate to be lobbed back at you hurts. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not for anyone all the time. We have to take turns. We can retreat to safe spaces as needed, but we can’t stay there forever. We have to find a way to work it out no matter how hurt and angry we are because if we don’t both halves of humanity will go on fighting and living this double existence side by side and nothing will ever get better, and no one will learn anything.

But is that so bad? Is it really your job to care what people who hate you or are ignorant of your perspective think? Is it your job to educate them or drag them kicking and screaming toward compassion and cooperation? No, of course, it isn’t. Giving them space in your life is a purely personal decision but I think it might be the best thing to do if we want to make the world better. We are all we have, and I think it’s important we all care about each other, whether we agree or not. That doesn’t mean I accept your thinking, or that I will compromise my values. I can fight for whats right and still let you know I care about you. So, it’s not your job, but it is your problem. It’s all our problem to solve.

And solving it begins with seeing each other as people.

Both sides have to begin by understanding that we are all much more alike than we are different and nothing that any human feels or believes is beyond another human’s understanding. It takes stepping into the shoes of another and imagining their whole life had been your own. You may think and believe the same that they do now, and if you did, would the way you isolate and shame them make you change your view if you were them? I doubt it.

To think we can go on making progress with the world split and going for one another throats every day is delusional. The reality is someone is going to have to find a way to take the first step and the longer we tell ourselves that to do so is to compromise your integrity the further we drift from each other and the harder it will be to reconcile, but it will have to be done one day. We are going to have to care. We are going to have to stop seeing each other as the enemy.

We are going to have to start seeing each other.

We are one country, and one world, and in this vast, cold cosmos all we have is one another. Each of us is precious, even those among us who we disagree with. Even those we find ignorant and stubborn and who put themselves at the center of the world to the exclusion of all the rest, even they are rare and precious. Like Carl Sagan said “If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.” So, yeah it should matter to you who hs healthcare. It should matter to you who has food, who has a job, who has a home, and who doesn’t. It should matter to you why people feel the way they do, hurt the way they do, and fight for the things they fight for. It is your problem too!

Your fellow human beings, whether you like them or not, agree with them or not, understand them or not, they are your responsibility.  We have to learn to get along sometime, so let’s try a little harder today, and a little harder the day after that. No matter your race, your class, your nationality, immigrant status, gender, sex, or sexuality, no matter how you were raised or what you believe, start by seeing each other as people.

Start by seeing each other at all.

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Go and Heal Someone Else

“As soon as healing takes place, go out and heal somebody else.”

— Maya Angelou

Humans have a hard time accepting that other people might have an easier way in life than they did, even if the easier way in life is all they ever wished for when they were struggling. What I mean is, if we see some going through what we have but we see them being given the support, patience, and understanding we weren’t, we get angry, and we cry over what we didn’t have and what no one else should have either.

We’re just bitter. We feel we have been wronged and since those wrongs can’t be helped or undone the least we can have is that everybody is wronged in the same ways we were. It feels like some kind of justice or validation of what we went through if at least it is universal and enduring. There is relief in seeing others fight and struggle the same as you. I suppose it makes us feel superior for having survived while others fall behind. It gives us a little bit of power and control over the world and other people we’ve never had.

But it’s wrong, and we know it’s wrong.

What are we all fighting for if it isn’t so other people don’t have to go through what we did?

This week, listen to the ways you talk about what other people should have, what they deserve, and why you think they aren’t as strong or as smart as you if they had it a little easier. Listen to the ways you talk about change and what benefit you think there comes with keeping things the same?

I’ve heard people say we shouldn’t be fighting bullying in school, we shouldn’t have kids wear seat belts, we shouldn’t have therapy, we shouldn’t have later start times for schools, or awards for kids who do their best, why?

The only answer I get is because they didn’t have that when they were young, and they turned out fine so no one should. I always ask if they think they might have turned out better, happier, or more successful if they’d had more support, understanding, and a better sense that they were good enough, smart enough, and strong enough already to do anything they wanted in life. They always answer yes, and they have no answer for why they wouldn’t want that for everyone, even if they didn’t have it themselves.

For the most part, I’m aware of when thoughts like that creep into my head, but I still struggle with believing other people should be able to do everything I can with the same limited resources and assistance I had. I forget that I don’t have a corner on suffering and that I don’t get to decide what other people need or what they can handle. I can be just as hard on other people about their lack of progress as I am on myself for mine. I can forget to have a little understanding, patience, or empathy.

What healing I have done has taken a lot of work. Work that would have been so much easier if I’d had more support and understanding. I want to help others in all the ways I needed help when I was struggling rather than talking trash or thinking trash thoughts about how weak they are or about how much I did with so much less. I want to heal people, not hurt people. I want to teach what I have learned and make the world better for the next person who feels alone and lost. This week, try to do the same.

Of course it isn’t your job to heal anyone, just as it’s no else’s job to heal you either, but we are social creatures, and so much of our lives are wrapped up in other people’s lives, in society, and culture, and community, we all benefit when we build each other up and do our best to meet one another’s needs.

You can’t fix it all, I’m only asking you to do one thing you wish someone would have done for you when you were hurting. Try checking in on people, especially people you haven’t spoken to in a while, or people you think are strong and don’t need it. Try really meaning it when you ask how someone is doing. Encourage others to open up to you. Try opening up to other people and letting them know they are important to you and that they make you feel better. Try actively listening and not just waiting your turn to talk about yourself. Offer advice if it’s asked for. Offer a hug if they want it. Offer some words of validation always.

Heal yourself first. Get what you need, do what you need to, first, always first, but after you have made some progress and stored up some strength yourself, go out and help the rest of the world heal.

***

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Each of Us is Capable of Compassion

Compassion has a biological basis and an evolutionary advantage and yet, we often stifle it and deny its place in human culture and condition. Why do we do this? Why isn’t compassion a human instinct, automatic and regular, like our drive to seek out water, or a mate? Why isn’t it as easy as breathing?

It isn’t because the biological basis relates to potential. The way each of us is born with the potential to speak, read, and perform complex mathematical equations, it all depends very much on how you are raised and when you are introduced to the subject. Like most things it depends on your childhood.

Studies have shown that our negative feelings are much more inheritable than our positive feelings. We can receive tendencies toward depression, anxiety, and possibly cruelty from our parents but we don’t get much of their generosity, empathy, or compassion. That has to be taught to us. That has to be unlocked through healthy relationships early on and seeing other people treated as people and not merely means to ends.

I like to compare it to understanding and performing math. It seems the closest analogy. Some people will struggle with it and for some people, it will come easily. Most of us need to be taught how to do it, some of us will never get it, and there are some who will invent calculus in their spare time like it’s nothing.

Parents who have healthy boundaries and allow their children to develop with the right amount of support and care, and use reason to teach their children right from wrong obviously raise more empathetic children. Conversely, and also obviously, children who are abused, invalidated, and who do not observe their parents expressing compassion do not develop the ability to show it either.

Compassion can develop in reaction to us not being taught or shown how or why to feel it. Some develop a high-capacity for compassion even when a parent attempts to stifle it. While parents are a child’s first examples of how to behave and treat other people, a parent’s example can also be the first to be rejected as the child enters society, encounters new ideas, and becomes independent from the parent.

But the norm is probably that children turn out a lot like their parents. A cruel parent raises a cruel child who grows into a cruel adult.

But I question whether compassion the emotion is ever really eradicated in a person. I tend to believe that even the child raised in cruelty and insecurity grows into an adult who still feels compassion but just can’t express it. I believe that child becomes a person who uncomfortable with those feelings. To alleviate the anxiety associated with compassion the child learns to express them as the inverse feelings of cruelty or indifference.

That person is not at all beyond redemption. They can be made whole, healthy, and empathetic when they are shown that compassion is nothing to be afraid of. They need someone who will not give up on them and who will take the time to reason with them and lead by example. It’s tough, but it can be done.

There is room to argue that their capacity for kindness is stunted. Like a person who never learned to read as a child, but I believe they can still feel it on some level. I believe no one is beyond the ability to care about the welfare of another human being.

That unconditional love, that dedication and that time is something we desperately need as a society. We have raised and taught each other that compassion is weakness and is avoided at all costs by all but the most foolish. We need to show each other that compassion is nothing to be afraid of. In fact, the increased development and expression of compassion in each of us can only result in a better world for all of us to live in.

The same way we do whatever we can to make sure our children learn math, or science, or history so that they will have a better chance at navigating and succeeding in the adult world, we should be teaching our children how to express compassion. The same way we cultivate and encourage a child who exhibits a talent for math, music, or art, we should be doing our best to encourage the child who has a naturally higher capacity for compassion.

The same way we could never imagine telling a child that the ability to do well and learn in school was a weakness or an undesirable trait, we should never tell them that kindness, understanding, empathy, or caring are either.

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True Love is Acceptance

Next month me and my ol’ lady celebrate our 13th Anniversary. Looking around me at the other couples we know gives me the feeling that 13 years is actually quite an accomplishment. I won’t pretend there wasn’t ever any problems, or that we didn’t ever break up for a little while, or that there weren’t times when I questioned our love. Hell, there were times when I questioned if being in love was actually a good thing at all.

I think a lot of what we went through was normal. We came out of it happier than ever and with a better understanding of what true love actually is. We know that what you see on TV isn’t real at all. We know that sometimes love doesn’t feel so good. We know that loving someone means a lot more then what we are taught it means. It’s not just a feeling you have, it is you actions and intentions too.

“Love is made up of three unconditional properties in equal measure:

1. Acceptance
2. Understanding
3. Appreciation

Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

One thing they don’t tell you about love is that its biggest ingredient is acceptance. Hell, we don’t even tell each other that we need acceptance. We barely know how to articulate it. We aren’t taught much about acceptance in relationships. We are taught who a person ought to be and we spend our whole lives trying to mold ourselves and the person we supposedly love into what we think is right.

I’m here to tell you that’s bullshit.

In the beginning of a relationship we all do our best to hide those parts of us we assume the person we are pursuing will not like. We hide our money problems, we hide our bad habits, we hide our darker thoughts, we hide it all and present or completely make up the best parts of ourselves. Meanwhile, the other person is doing the same and both of you think you hit the jackpot.

Hahahaha, then it all blows up about 2 years in.

“Falling in love was simple; one had only to yield. Digesting another person, however, and sustaining love, was bloody work, and not a soft job.”

Hanif Kureishi, Midnight All Day

The bad parts of us eventually start to bob back up to the surface and both of you feel like you were lied too. But you’ve invested emotion, time, and money so you keep trying to get that person you thought you were dating back but it’s never going to happen. You have to get to know this new person and see if you can love them too.

Sigh, it’s normal but the whole thing is stupid. I admit I did it too and I was stupid. I thought I knew what love was supposed to look like. She feels the same way.

We found out that we both came with a lot of emotional baggage. We found out that we had very different ideas about how things should be done. We found out we viewed the world a little differently. We found out we didn’t have everything in common that we thought we did.

She thought if I loved her I would be able to figure out what she needed without her having to tell me, and I thought if she loved me she would want to spend all her time with me. She thought if I loved her I would do the dishes without her having to remind me, and I thought if she loved me she wouldn’t leave used tissues on the nightstand.

It was all so petty. We wasted so much time trying to get the other to just be the way we wanted them to be instead of just spending all our time LOVING one another. It was so, so stupid. In our defense we did love each other and I believe that if we had been taught more about relationships and what was normal and what wasn’t we would have had half the problems or less.

“If you really love someone,’ Claudia continued, ‘you have to be prepared to accept them as they are. Maybe you hope that one day they get a wake-up call and make the changes for their own reasons.”

Graeme Simsion, The Rosie Project

So I guess the moral of the story here is just accept the person you love for who they are. They will be happier, you will be happier, and you both will feel more comfortable to show your true selves to each other. Love just isn’t love without acceptance.

I accept my girl for who she is and I learn to work around the things that I was trying to change before. Instead of trying to force her to be something she wasn’t I asked her why she was the way she was and I asked her what I could do to help her give me what I needed too, and vice versa. For example, I’m always going to be a forgetful person. She had to let go of this fantasy where my memory suddenly started working the way she wanted it to.

I asked her what was more important, me getting the thing done, or me remembering to get the thing done? I told her she may have to remind me of things but that when she did I would always do what it was she needed me to do. All I can do is hope that is good enough.

I know a couple who fought for years over the husbands love for playing his Xbox after work. She wanted him to spend time with her and he wanted to blow of steam shooting up stuff and yelling at people. She almost left him until the lightbulb finally went off. Now she plays Xbox with him when he gets home and they both are living happily ever after.

I know a couple where the wife just wants to go out and dance and drink with friends but her husband is trying to keep her home or he has to go with her to keep an eye on her. He doesn’t know it but he’s slowly pushing her away. If he would just accept that his wife needs time with her girlfriends they could be living happily ever after too.

I know a lot of couples that need to learn to love and let be and I know a lot of other couples who are doing it right too.

“The place where you continually return for love and acceptance—that’s home.”

Richelle E. Goodrich, Smile Anyway: Quotes, Verse, & Grumblings for Every Day of the Year

Me and my girlfriend had to learn what acceptance was. We had to learn to just relax and stop trying to force the other to be something they weren’t. We had to stop listening to friends and family and trying to emulate what we saw in movies and on TV. None of that was real. What is real is that we are two imperfect people in an imperfect relationship that can be amazing and beautiful when we give each other space to be who we are.

Compassion for the Less Fortunate, for the Undeserving, and for Yourself

com·pas·sion (kəm-păsh′ən)
n.
Deep awareness of the suffering of another accompanied by the wish to relieve it.

I have always been a naturally sensitive and compassionate person, sometimes to a fault. I feel the ills of the world as if they were my own and walk through life feeling alone in it. It hurts me deeply to see so much suffering and unfairness and my one wish is that more people could see things differently and try a little harder to feel the love and compassion I do.

We should all try to feel more compassion for those who have less than us, for those who we feel are undeserving of compassion, and for ourselves. Even small acts of compassion can make this world a more pleasant place to exist in and give each of us more joy and purpose.

Compassion for Those Less Fortunate

“True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those less fortunate than ourselves but from realizing our kinship with all beings.”

— Pema Chödrön, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living

There is an idea, particularly here in America, that through hard work and dedication everyone can have heath, wealth, and happiness. The American Dream. And if you have not achieved the American Dream it is through some fault in your own character and it is your job to fix yourself and pull yourself up. This idea does not take into account that we all don’t start out with the same opportunities and that there are not more obstacles on the path for some than for others.

There are people suffering from health issues and/or mental health issues. There are those who belong to groups that are systematically discriminated against. There are those for whom the education system has failed them. There are those who grew up in abusive homes or foster homes. There are those for whom pure chance and a lack of luck have put them in positions where they are now poor regardless of their past hard work or grades.

Some people just happen to live in countries with few natural resources or are rife with war and corruption and through events outside of their control, there are no jobs and they live with nothing and no opportunities.

There are many reasons why people are poor and less fortunate, more than I could list. But most of the reasons are things that hard work and “gumption” can’t get people out of. These types of obstacles require a group effort. Each of us needs to stop and look inside ourselves and find some empathy for our fellow human beings. Remember, we all belong to one big global family. Think about that and see if you don’t find some love for your fellow man. When you find that love, use it to make someone’s life better.

We are all human, we bleed the same blood, we cry the same tears, and we feel the same emotions. In this great big universe all we have is each other and we ought to start appreciating each other and lifting ourselves up, together. There is nothing we all couldn’t do if only we could love one another.

I could argue that helping the less fortunate is the morally right thing to do but that would get us into some tricky philosophical stuff. Instead I will only say that by each of us helping those in need in whatever capacity we can, by doing this we increase the happiness of the whole world. And who wouldn’t want to live in a happier, more compassionate world? Of course we all would, but it all has to start with each of us doing our part.

Compassion for Those Undeserving

“But who prays for Satan? Who, in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most?”

― Mark Twain

You might be thinking that there are those for whom compassion is undeserved. I would have to say I disagree with that. I believe the people who we have decided are too mean, uncaring, unmerciful, or out right evil, are the people who are most in need of compassion. I would argue that they got that way from a lack of compassion shown to then in the first place. Or maybe they were taught that compassion is the same as weakness. They only need to be shown the joy that can come from each of us choosing to care about our fellow human beings.

I think these people operate from a place of ignorance. They have bought in to the lie that each of us stands alone in this world and that we should use other human beings as a means to our own ends. They do not see themselves in others and so cannot feel true love for anyone but themselves. On some level they don’t believe other people could have the same wants and needs or feel the same hurts and sorrows.

Showing a someone that other people are deserving of their consideration and compassion is a hard thing to do. They cannot easily see past the gains they have received by trampling on others. They cannot easily see that there is so much more to be gained from kindness. That cannot easily see that a joy that is shared is the best kind of joy there is. We have to make special efforts to change their minds but that effort starts with showing them compassion first.

We have to lead them back to love through example. Once they feel the gratitude of compassion shown they can make the leap to feeling the joy of compassion given.

Compassion for Yourself

“If your compassion does not include yourself, It is incomplete”

—Buddha

We all know self-compassion is quite a hard thing to accomplish. For many of use caring for friends and family is easier that caring for the ourselves. We believe that self-love is arrogant and self-indulgent. We believe that we don’t deserve to love ourselves but we do. I want the world to be a kinder and happier place but it isn’t yet and for some of us love and kindness is not something we can get from others, so we must give it to ourselves.

Self compassion means not being so hard on yourself. It means knowing yourself and not judging yourself. It means forgiving yourself and helping yourself get up and try again. It means comforting yourself and protecting yourself. It means doing all the things you want someone else to do for you, for yourself.

Do not think that you are undeserving of your own love. Each of us is equally entitled to feeling loved and cared for in this world and the best place to find it is within your own mind and heart. It is easier said than done, I know, but with awareness and practice you can get there. Just look for the good inside yourself and treat yourself as you would anyone else you love. That is all it takes.

Self-compassion is so important. All other acts of true compassion come after one has learned compassion for one’s self. You cannot truly love others without first loving yourself. Any love without self-love is a selfish one, even if only on a subconscious level. In order to truly make this world a better place we have to start by treating ourselves better, then extending that feeling outward and onto others.

“Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others.”

— Christopher Germer

It is the easiest thing in the world to just love and be kind. All you have to do is forget what you think you know about who deserves compassion and who doesn’t. Forget everything you we taught about how other who are not like you should be treated. Start over and look at every human being as someone who is in need of, and deserving of, love.

Do that and I am telling you, your heart will grow and fill with an intense need to relieve the ills of the world too. Imagine if everyone instantly felt that way. Imagine how wonderful life on this planet could be.

Now go back and imagine that it all started with you.

This post was done in participation with the #1000speak for Compassion event. The aim is to get at least 1000 bloggers from all over the world to come together to talk about compassion, all one one day, February 20, 2015.