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?

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.

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.

charlie brown and lucy

The Dangers of Expectations

Last week I wrote about wanting things to go back to how they were, and how that expectation is unrealistic and unhelpful. This week I want to take this one step further and explore how our expectations of others and our desire for specific outcomes leads us to resentment, anger, and hopelessness – and what we can do about it.

Expectations

We view the world and others through our own perceptions, beliefs, and mores. Consciously and unconsciously, we expect people to think and act in the way we believe others should act. It is not bad to have our expectations, but assuming others can, will, and desire to live by our standards is unrealistic. I would hope that everyone would see the world the way I do and treat each other kindly, but if I am being honest, I can’t even live up to that perfectly every day.

Our expectations are not only about the actions of other people. Our expectations are also about the environment, politics, society, and every circumstance that touches our lives. Most of the North America is currently experiencing severe cold and snow right now. Many are angry or disheartened by this fact. Their expectation is that it should not be cold, but it is winter and Mother Nature does what Mother Nature does. Others are having trouble accepting election results or the seriousness of the Coronavirus. Just because we don’t want to believe the facts, does not mean they are not facts. Our expectations of people, the environment, and the world can not control the reality of any of those things.

Acceptance

Instead of stubbornly holding on to our expectations in the face of reality, we need to accept reality. The image of Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football comes to mind. Charlie Brown constantly expected Lucy to hold the football for him. And Lucy constantly pulled the football away before he kicked it. If Charlie Brown decides to believe each and every time that Lucy will act differently than she has consistently acted, who is to blame for his pain?

As I have said before, “Pain comes from expecting a dog to be a cat. A dog is going to be a dog.” People are probably going to do what they have done before. The weather is going to be the weather. The results are going to be the results. No matter how much we believe or insist, these facts will not change. Our desire for reality to be different from reality only causes us pain, anger, resentment, and disappointment. Acceptance is the key to peace.

Boundaries

Bear in mind that acceptance does not mean we allow ourselves to be continually hurt. It is important to create boundaries and to voice our needs. Charlie Brown needs to accept Lucy will remove the football – and then he should probably find someone else to hold the ball for him in the future.

Acceptance does not mean we excuse or accept the actions of others. Acceptance simply means we stop fighting reality. When we can accept the reality of the situation, we are then empowered to do something about it. If we are around people or circumstances that do not serve us, instead of angerly attacking reality, it is best to accept the reality of the situation so that we are then empowered to change the situation or remove ourselves from it.

Much of our anger and resentment is because we are playing the victim of some person or circumstance. We are giving them our power. It is important that we set healthy boundaries and clearly voice those boundaries moving forward.  

Be Kind

As Robin Williams is quoted as saying, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” We can only the do the best we can do that day at that time. We can encourage, hope, and pray people will act better – but on any given day they are only going to be able to do what they are capable at doing. Know that even when someone is seemingly intentionally being mean, it is usually because of their own pain. That doesn’t mean you need to take their abuse, but it does mean that you can still give them your empathy.

Where are you fighting reality? What do you need to accept? What boundaries can you put in place? Instead of playing victim to circumstances or others, empower yourself through acceptance.

park bench

You can’t go back

Recently I worked with a woman in job transition who was stuck. Every time we talked she would only bemoan how she wanted her old position back. She had worked for a company for decades. She loved what she did. She loved her co-workers and the company culture. She wanted it all back. But it was not possible. The position no longer existed. She could not go back. Her desire for what used to be kept her from moving forward. She was sad, depressed, and hopeless because she refused to let go of what was no longer possible.

Many of us are feeling this way right now. When the pandemic struck last spring, we did our best to adapt. We looked forward to the summer, then the fall, then the new year. Every time we reached our expectation of when things should “get back to normal” and found that nothing changed, we became sad, angry, and despondent. Lately I have seen many clients, friends, and family reach the end of their rope. They bucked up during the recent challenges inspired by the hope things would get back to normal. I am not sure if things will go back to what we knew as normal. What we need to do, is let go of the past and move into our future.

Release the Old

One of the recommendations I made to my client who wanted her old job back was to hold a funeral for her old position. She had to let go of the hope there was an opportunity to return to what was. Whether you are holding on to an old position, a relationship which can no longer be, or the life we used to know, the first step in moving forward is to let go of the hope that things are like they used to be.

Nothing stays constant. All of life grows and changes. If it does not, it dies. When things in our lives are not changing and growing, we need to mourn that their time is over. Until we let go of what was, we can never embrace what will be.

Release Time

Some of the stress people are feeling about the pandemic is because they created arbitrary dates in their minds as to when it would be over. Last March I researched the Spanish flu and learned that it lasted for two years. Instead of assuming our challenge would be over in the summer, after the election, or in the new year, I pushed my thinking into the belief that it would be at least five years. I hope and believe it will not be that long but pushing my expectation out past the point I think is necessary, has given me a peace.

We can not control when or if things will change or be better so it is best not to create expectations of timing we can not control. Many of my job seekers want their new position to come by a certain date. It is important to know when we need income and to have plans to pay our bills, but to set an expectation that we will secure a certain position in that timing is unrealistic. Instead of focusing on time, focus on your efforts as in the case of a job search or focus on the moment. Stress relief can be found in releasing uncontrollable expectations of timing.

Define What is Next

What we can do is to look at what is next. For the job seeker it is defining the ideal position. For the pandemic, it may be defining how we go about our day for the short term. We can not move toward something until we define it first. Instead of longing for what was or hoping something will happen in your timing, focus your efforts on defining what you want and making baby steps toward your goals.

As we move into 2021, release the past and your expectations of when things will change. Focus on what you want next and begin to work towards that. If you have the same experience I do, you will begin to see wondrous things come your way.

Matrix there is no spoon

We are People. Not Labels.

The first half of my life, I pursued truth and absolutes. As a perfectionist, I wanted to know what was absolutely perfect, then live every moment living up to that ideal. My second half of life is being spent releasing the notion that there is any absolute truth and perfection. I am learning that my daily pursuit should be focused on love, acceptance, and compassion.

I used to be a box checker. Every day I had a litany of to-do’s each with their own little check box. Like a bull in a china shop I bulldozed over people and propriety to complete tasks and check off boxes so I could feel that I was perfect, successful, and therefore worthy.

Slowly, I learned that I was the one creating the boxes. The boxes were not some supernatural absolute directive. They were created by me and therefore could be erased and ignored by me. I was the one who defined life and therefore I could also redefine how I wanted to live life.

It reminds me of the first Matrix movie where Neo visits the Oracle. In the waiting room is a child apparently bending a spoon with its mind.

Spoon boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth.

Neo: What truth?

Spoon boy: There is no spoon.

Neo: There is no spoon?

Spoon boy: Then you’ll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.

There is no spoon. There are no boxes. There are no absolutes. Releasing the notion of absolutes has given me a freedom I never experienced before. It has taught me how to bend. It has allowed me to be more compassionate. When I labeled right and wrong, good and bad, I was filled with hate, disappointment, and fear. In releasing the notion that there is an absolute, and accepting that I can never absolutely know what is right and wrong, has freed me to see each situation in the moment and discern the truth and appropriate action in that moment.

None of us is perfect. We all have times in our lives when we did not act in a way of which we are proud. As I am sure you don’t want to be judged for that low point of your life, neither does anyone else. The world is changing at an incredible rate right now. Some of us are excited about the possibilities that it brings. Others are terrified that what they have always known is gone and are experiencing a massive extinction burst. No matter where we are on that continuum, we need to take things slow, process our feelings, and stay away from labeling.

Instead of making assumptions because of someone’s actions, seek to understand. Instead of labeling someone, remember who they also are. That person is not a Trump supporter, that is my brother. That is not a snowflake Liberal, that is my BFF. That is not a seditionist that attacked the capital, it is a friend from high school. That is not evil media, that is my brother-in-law. That is not a racist, it is my aunt. That is not big tech, it is my client.

This week, catch yourself putting labels on people. Look beyond the label and remember that each of us are just humans doing the best that we can.