For some reason I have been feeling acutely connected to people I am encountering these days. In addition to my friends, family and others I know, I am observing all sorts of people - on the street, providing services, working in stores. It is as though I am more 'present' to them individually, and more conscious of who people are and the uniqueness of each one's lives. We all are in pretty much the same soup -- working, raising families, dealing with problems, dreaming, and dealing with the often-difficult job of just living one's life each day.
I am experiencing a mix of gratitude for the good fortune and advantages I enjoy just by being a particular age at a particular time in history, and empathy for what I imagine others are experiencing. I was talking to a woman today about 'her story' how hard it is for her to be middle-aged with minimal skills, financial insecurity, lacking ambition and ending a long-standing relationship about what she might do to improve her situation. She complained that she was always putting other's needs before her own and was tired of trying to 'fix' people. Yet, she was also being courageous in her willingness to turn her back on a dysfunctional relationship and step into the unknown.
The conversation left me appreciating how we can have compassion for others and ourselves without 'feeling sorry for' or giving false sympathy to people when they face challenges. I realized at a deeper level that compassion is perhaps the ultimate expression of love -- accepting that people are always whole and perfect the way they are while also allowing for the fact that each of us always has a choice and the capacity to generate a new story, to reinvent ourselves and our vision and our future.
I have had this understanding of compassion for a long time, but in these recent days I am beginning to experience compassion as I encounter others - to stand in the other's shoes and acknowledge them as powerful and capable beings co-creating their world each day and in each conversation.
I wonder if we can teach compassion? Or conversely how is it that we learn it? I am inclined to believe it is something that we all always embody from birth to death. I believe that compassion may be constitutive of who we are, and the engine that drives who we can be when we are at our very best. It may be more accurate to say we learn how not to have compassion, and then justify that lack of our most basic humanity because of fear or becoming trapped in our own judgments and self-referential worldview.
Like other expressions of Love, I don't think we can have compassion for others unless and until we have compassion for ourselves. Learning this means we need to give up self-blame and authentically forgive ourselves for the list of transgressions we have perpetrated. To forgive isn't about justifying, explaining or rationalizing some action, but being fully responsible and forgiving ourselves in spite of our "wrong-doing". The 'Golden Rule' of loving and treating others as we wish to be loved and treated might be inverted to loving and nurturing ourselves the way we want to be loved and nurtured by others. My point is, I see compassion as a circle of acceptance, recognition and respect flowing through and uniting all of us.
This month has been declared 'human trafficking' month by President Obama and has been addressed by many world leaders including Pope Francis. There is no question that this scourge is worsening at an alarming rate. The costs to our humanity are incalculable and the perpetrators by any calculation qualify as 'evil'. I just downloaded a brilliant mystery novel that exposes this subject, The Fourth Rule Of Ten by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay.
But what is not reported and where we need to find our compassion is the unbelievable suffering that exists in the populations that are feeding human trafficking. Parents selling their children in the naïve hope they will somehow have a better life --whole families voluntarily giving themselves to unscrupulous and greedy merchants. Millions of people reduced to being commodities, living with thin hope and mostly dying with unfulfilled dreams. Whether direct victims of kidnapping or simply desperate refugees from intolerable poverty and no possibilities, there but for the Grace of God go we. We cannot ignore and we cannot escape that each and every one of us has a direct connection to this blight. At the very least, we can experience and express our compassion. If we have the means and the will to act politically or economically we must do so.
Compassion begins with ourselves and extends out to embrace all of humanity and through compassion we ultimately discover and experience who we are.