seeking human kindness

Compassion is Tough

I have read Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, at least twice now and never highlighted the section at the top of page 17 until my friend recently shared it with me. “We live in a blame culture – we want to know whose fault it is and how they’re going to pay. . . but we rarely hold people accountable . . . this rage-blame-too-tired-and-busy-to-follow-through mind-set is why we’re so heavy on self-righteous anger and so low on compassion.” Let’s break this apart but first, here is some of my own experience.

I have written before about my chain-smoking neighbors. They smoke constantly throughout the day and inevitably, the smoke comes into my house. This has been happening for over two years now. I complained to my husband. I complained to every friend I could. I wrote a post about it. But, until now, I never brought it up to them. I experienced pain and I leapt into self-righteous anger and blame which did not go anywhere except between my two ears.  I finally had the courage to speak with the neighbors, sanely and clearly. We discussed options; I set boundaries. Unfortunately, this has not stopped them smoking or the smoke coming into my house, but it did empower me. I stopped spending every waking movement replaying the evil they were bestowing on me. Instead, I now find ways to create my own boundaries – closing windows, using fans to point the smoke out, and reclaiming my balcony at least half the time. It is not ideal, but it feels so much more peaceful than stewing in hate.

Blame / Self-Righteous Anger

As I initially did with my neighbors, many people are turning to hate because it is easier than acting differently. Over these past years, I had a spent way too much time focused on how horrible my neighbors were. How inconsiderate they were. How they should pay for their actions. I clearly defined who was good and right (me), and who was bad and wrong (obviously them). It felt good to my ego and my indignation, but it didn’t come close to solving my problem or providing me with clean air.

I agree with Ms. Brown wholeheartedly (no pun intended) when she says that our first response to pain and fear is to attack and blame. Spend 10-seconds on Facebook at any given time and you can see this in action. Self-righteous anger is a way of life for many of us right now.

I realize I play the blame game because I tend to take on the role of victim and feel powerless to make my needs known. For others, they may be in desperate need of connection and find it easier to connect through hate instead of love. It really does not matter why we turn to hate and blame first, what is more important is what can we do differently.

Compassion

Stepping away from my own pain and anger, allowed me to see the full picture. I became aware of my neighbor’s life and their motives. By looking at their own pain and struggles, I began to have compassion for them. They stopped being the bad guy and started to be just another person struggling to be the best they can.

Compassion, Ms. Brown explains to us, actually means “to suffer with.” Isn’t that lacking today? Instead of hearing another’s struggles and fears and being with them, we instead blame and label. We don’t have the courage to actually suffer with them, to walk in their shoes. As American Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön wrote, “Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”

Boundaries

Having compassion and understanding does not mean that we resign to accepting personal pain. No. We can have compassion for others and set strong boundaries. We can understand someone else’s viewpoint and look for beneficial solutions for all.

I think Ms. Brown lets people off too lightly when she says, “We’re so exhausted from ranting and raving that we don’t have the energy to develop meaningful consequences and enforce them.” Personally, I never thought I had another option than to rant and rave. I felt powerless and victimized. I felt that a “good girl” accepts things as they are and doesn’t rock the boat. I thought the only options were to sit in my resentment or attack someone else (which for me is not an option). I am learning the space of gray between those two options. First, I need to identify what is not working for me. Instead of blaming the other, I need to define my boundaries and needs, and then ask for them. I have the power to change my circumstance either through letting someone become aware of how they are affecting me or to make changes in how I act and react.

Moving Forward

The Brené Brown quote I shared in the first paragraph is from a chapter called “Courage, Compassion, and Connection.” These are all things I think the world is in much need right now. But how do we get them?  The way Ms. Brown tells us we gain each is by doing them. Just like we learn to walk by walking, we learn these important and powerful traits is by doing them. How can you start today?

people in groups

Look at the Individual

My day job sent around an interesting TED Talk on our current multigenerational workforce. This is the first time in history five generations – Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millenials, Generation Z – are working together. What do you think the talk centered around? How the older generations work harder? How the middle child generation, Gen X, allows their cynicism to sabotage the generations on either side? How Millenials need to be coddled and treated with kid gloves?  Take a moment to think about these groups and what it looks like to have an office packed with all these different types of workers.

Then listen to Leah Georges’ TED Talk. She does not categorize the groups. She does not separate and label them. Instead, she shows how our assumptions, stereotypes, and biases make more problems than they solve. Ms. Georges asks us to release our desire to lump people together in groups and make assumptions about them by our own classifications. She instead, encourages us to get to know each other as individuals. When we take off the label, we can see the reality of what that person is going through, where they need support, and where they can excel.

people in groups
Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

This is a much-needed lesson outside of the workplace as well. Although the TED talk focuses on age, Ms. Georges’ concepts can easily be applied to bias of gender, ethnicity, politics, religion, and sexual orientation/identification. Our minds naturally label and categorize. For cognitive efficiency, we meet someone, choose a group to define them, and lump that person in the same box. It is efficient but also misguided. Our desire to put people into neat little boxes is off-base for many reasons.

Categorization is Not a Fact

Having a label does not make it a fact. It just helps us communicate. We all agree a plant with bark, roots, branches and leaves is called a tree. We do this to improve and simplify our communication. When I need to tell the fireman my cat is stuck in a tree I don’t have to have to say, “If you look between those green petals you can see my cat sitting on the long brown wooden arm coming out of that vertical wooden pole.” Similarly, we can discuss an employee by their generation to make it easier to communicate, but we can not assume that every person in that generation will act the way we have personally defined that generation.

Categorization is Built on Assumptions

We decide what we categorize by – age, skin tone, gender – and then create our own assumptions about those groups. All of this is personal and based on our own perception, bias, and experience. It is not absolute. It is not unmoving. As we gain more data and experience, our categorizations may change, our perceptions may change. Everything is based on our assumptions at that time. A better choice is to encourage thinking to be more flexible, inclusive, and expansive.

Categorization Only Looks at a Slice

People are not two-dimensional. We are not only our role of mother, daughter, sister, writer, or consultant. We are not only ourselves on our best behavior. We also have rough days or days we act in less-than-ideal ways. Categorization is like a scientific experiment. Experiments are made in controlled environments. They are in heat or cold, inside or outside. What is found to be true in the experiment is only true in those specific conditions. Same goes for us. How we appear in our work environment may be very different than we appear out with friends. To be categorized by one role or another only gives a slice of who we are.

As you go through your day, see if you can become aware of how you classify people, choose to let go of your labels, and seek to understand each person as an individual. Not only will this help us to come together, but it also makes for much more fascinating and multifaceted interactions.

connecting to others

Connection is Critical

This past year has been a challenge to many. When our contact became limited, we found out how much we took being with others for granted, and how much we need it. Isolation increased how sad, depressed, and anxious we were already feeling before the pandemic. Recently, I relistened to Johann Hari’s TED talk on depression and anxiety. One of the key points he makes is about connection; focusing on “we” instead of “me” to improve our mood and outlook about life. I couldn’t agree more.

Connection is critical. Unfortunately, our society focuses on “me”, on wealth and owning stuff, and on the social media perception of happiness instead of true enjoyment of life. All of this plus the pandemic have taken away from the real connection we crave.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

I believe this is why many have, ironically, chosen to be part of groups focused on hate and separation. As Richard Rohr wrote, “Love grounds us by creating focus, direction, motivation, even joy—and if we don’t find these things in love, we usually will try to find them in hate.” We want to feel a sense of belonging and community. Hate groups and cults feed off our desire to be part of something bigger. Focusing on hate versus love is the easier and more natural route for many of us.  

Of course, there are more positive ways to make connections. I find that supporting others can help me feel connected and minimize my self-focused depression. I am blessed to support those in job transition, those seeking work-life balance, and others who desire to live a sober life. Supporting others gives me the connection I need. Providing service to others is one of the most selfish acts I do as it not only gives me the joy of connection, but also the added side benefit that the advice or support I give to others is often what I need to hear myself.

Making real human connections, not just social media interactions, is also critical. We have become a society with the ability to communicate around the world instantaneously, and the inability to make real true connections. For me, every interaction has again become priceless. Before, especially in my Type-A days, each interaction was a means to an end, a checkbox to tick bringing me closer to the achievement I was pursing. Today, I cherish the wave from a neighbor, the good afternoon greeting of the store clerk, and the phone call with an old friend. Every chance to look in someone’s eyes and make a real connection is seized upon as much as I can.

On those days when I wake up on the wrong side of the bed and want to isolate to soak in my pain and malaise, I choose to instead go against my desire to disconnect and make an active effort to interact with everyone I can. When I can make this switch, I know my mood is positively affected.

As you go through your day, be present as much as you can. Connect, don’t isolate. Make the most of every interactive. See how your mood is lightened and be grateful.

growing plants

L.O.V.E. – Letting Others Voluntarily Evolve

Part of my purpose in life, I believe, is to help others have the best lives they can. I want the best for them. I can see their potential. I want them to be happy and content today, right now. Unfortunately, it is not possible to dictate when someone’s life will turnaround. Sometimes it is due to outside circumstances. Usually, it is due to what that person is capable of doing today at this time.

I don’t remember where I heard this, but I heard love described as Letting Others Voluntarily Evolve. Makes sense doesn’t it? A two-year-old is not ready for university level physics. In time, maybe, but not today. The concept is very easy to understand. Accepting in it certain circumstances is not.

When I am working with individuals who are just laid off, it is understandable that they are going through the seven stages of grief. They are in denial that they have been laid off. They are angry that it happened after all they have done for the company. They are depressed that it happened. Eventually, they come to accept that they need to seek other employment or maybe retire. It is difficult to see someone go through this process, but I try to give them the supportive space they need. What is more challenging, is when candidates do not make it to acceptance.

Some candidates can only see staying at their previous company. They do not want to accept the layoff happened and fight the reality that they need to move on. Other candidates can’t see a future. They are filled with hopelessness of finding something new and refuse to hear the truth of opportunities. Whether job seekers or others in our lives who are stuck, it can be hard to allow them the space to make through the stages of grief in their own time.

Truth is we can not force them. We can not make the process faster. We can not make acceptance come. We can not make this mental change for them. What we can do is hold space for them during the process, and to stay on our own side of the street.

To hold space for someone means to see the person and their circumstances objectively. It means to create an atmosphere without judgment. Holding space means creating mental and emotional space for that individual to process what they are going through. What is critical at this time is to provide them with a safe space to be angry, sad, raging, despairing. Whatever their emotion, before they can release it, they first need to feel it. It may not be pleasant to experience or watch, but it needs to be released – not justified, denied, ignored, or minimized. Like a tea kettle releasing steam, if the energy of the emotion is not released, the individual will burst.

While the affected person is going through their work, we have to be careful to stay on our side of the street. Although our heart may go out to them, it is not ours to experience. Trying to stop their pain or take their pain on our self, does not help anyone. Like a comfortable blanket, we can hold them and give them support, but we do not take on what is not ours.

If you have someone you care about who is in pain due to job loss or any other transition, do your best to provide them with a safe space to move through their pain and into the new.

pie making ingredients

Preparing to Be Unprepared

I stole the title from Jeff Haden’s article because it is brilliant. I don’t seek out articles written about William Shatner but this one came across my LinkedIn feed and then on Facebook through people I trust and revere, so I thought I would check it out. I am glad I did.

Over the years, I have tried to minimize my overly organized, always-be-prepared, control freak, Type-A ways. I realize my desire to control causes me stress and upset. My desire to control is only a desire, not the true ability to control. Unexpectedly, William Shatner expressed a powerful alternative to the desire to control. He showed the importance of preparation and the importance of letting go.

Preparation

Constantly shooting from the hip or reacting and not acting, will not get us anywhere. We have an obligation to do our own footwork. Research topics. Analyze scenarios. Uncover everything we can uncover. If we do not, we are making decisions and actions without all the information, and when we do that, we often make poor decisions.

Preparation, however, does not ensure results. Our preparation does not dictate how things will go. This is where I often have epic fails. I research, analyze, and come to my desired conclusions – then get very upset when life does not work out as I planned. Preparation does not mean controlling the situation. Preparation does not mean things will go the way we desire. Preparation is by definition “to make ready.” It is not the end. It is the before, before the beginning. Preparation is reading the recipe and pulling all the ingredients together. It is not the final cake. It is not even making the cake.

My stress comes from assuming that my preparation is going to dictate the result. Unfortunately, it does not. I believe that if I think things through, talk things through, create and choose scenarios, then what I desire will happen. Going back to the cake analogy, just because I choose the recipe and have my ingredients ready, does not ensure the outcome of a delicious cake. Some of my ingredients could have gone bad. Maybe my oven heats unevenly or I receive a phone call distracting me from the most important part of the process. Some of these actions I may be able to control, but often many things are just up to fate.

Often, I have this conversation with my job seekers. They prepare. They update their resume. They customize their cover letter. They practice before an interview. All of these things are good, but they do not ensure the end result of landing a position. Many things happen that have nothing to do with our preparation – changes internally at the company, qualifications of other candidates, company workload shift – which affect the end result.

Let Go

Which is why Mr. Shatner says, “Prepare, be humble, and see any one starting point as just a beginning from which all sorts of possibilities can emanate.” What he is really talking about is letting go. Do the preparation then let go of your ego, let go of your expectations. Stay in the moment and see where the breadcrumbs lead you. A comment, a chance meeting, a new piece of information, all of this can change the direction of a conversation, a job search, or any part of our life. In my life, when I am able (or forced) to let go, things happen much better and amazingly than I could imagine.

Letting go demands trust, openness, and willingness to go into the unknown. If we have prepared, we can bring some tools with us, but the journey is really one of being open to anything. It is hearing what is said, not forcing the conversation to mirror what we planned. It is letting things play out, not forcing them to happen faster than they are meant to. It is taking an unexpected path and seeing where it leads.

What do you have coming up this week? Have you prepared to the best of your ability? Are you willing to let go and allow things to happen as they unfold? 

books

Don’t write the ending if you don’t know the full story.

Truth be told, I am a judger. I look at people and see what they can be, not what they are. My desire is to help people be better than they currently are. This is great for my clients. They are paying me to help them become what they strive to become. This is not so great for others I meet along the way. One of my personal drives is to help improve the world by helping to improve ourselves. This is a noble, if also unwelcomed at times, cause.

What I am learning to embrace is to temper my desire to help. I ask myself if this person has asked for my help before I jump into fixing their lives. If I know it is not my business but am still triggered by actions that I “know” could be better, I take a step back and look at where they are versus where I would hope they would be. When a 20-year-old is acting dumb on Médano Beach, I don’t judge them by how this old lady acts. I try to remember how I acted at that age and cut them a bit of slack.

I must remember that I am usually meeting someone mid-story. I assume that they are where I am, or where I aspire them to be. I look at their lives and actions through the perception of my previous experience and growth. This may lead to disappointment, frustration, or assumptions. None of which is fair.

Lately I have been thinking back at my growth over the years. If you would have known me at 20-years old, I was nowhere near the person I am today. I would hate to be judged at that age by the things I take for granted at this age. I simply was not there. And that was ok. I was where I was. I had to be there before I could get here. I had to experience the good, bad, and ugly of that phase, to embrace what I know today.

An innocuous example is salary negotiation. At 25, I was not even thinking about negotiation. My mind focused on if I was good enough or lucky enough to be chosen for a position. Salary negotiation was not even a concept of which I was aware. Later in life, I started to know my worth but still didn’t understand the non-emotional process of negotiating a fair compensation. Today I help others understand negotiation. Sometimes I work with someone who is where I was at 25. I can not get angry at them for not knowing about or feeling comfortable with negotiation. They are where they are; they are where I was too.

books
Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

We are all where we are. Everyone we meet is somewhere in their story. Only newborns come to us with a clean slate, and some of us may even question that. For the most part, however, we meet everyone mid-story. They may be in their chapter two, maybe chapter fifteen, or maybe in their final chapter. What is important is that we do not make assumptions. We should not judge someone from our perspective, but from where they currently are.

When you run across someone who is challenging, take a minute to check in with your assumptions. Are you judging them by what you expect or by where they truly are in their life? Try to remember too that you don’t know where they have been or what they are currently going through. You are only seeing one chapter in their book.