Ask anyone you meet what the keys to understanding another person with compassion and the challenges they face are and you’ll most likely get a variety of answers. Go ahead try it, do these replies sound familiar?
Well, yes… All of those are good starts towards gaining a better understanding of one another. It becomes even more difficult when the one we are attempting to comprehend is holding back or vaguely omitting information in order to protect their vulnerable parts.
Understanding what someone tells us, either in words or without speaking (For example: Through body language & other non-verbal cues) is tough enough without having to guess at the missing puzzle pieces being hidden.
However, what all of those answers do not take into account is that each one of us is facing a struggle we never speak of, one that we hide from the world because no one else could understand it on our level because nobody feels quite the same way that we do.
To some degree, every person on the face of this bright-blue spinning ball of universal dust is dealing with some sort of trial or challenge that they do not let just anyone know about. Sure, if you’re paying attention or know the tell-tale signs to look for you might be able to make an educated guess, but most of us carry those parts of our lives quite guarded and intimately close to our chest.
When someone tells us their struggle, it’s normal to want to convey empathy. We want to “fix it” somehow or at least show them that we identify with what they’re going through. But, most people don’t realize that what they are actually doing is injecting themselves selfishly into a situation that has nothing to do with them.
It’s a natural human characteristic. We call it being compassionate, or maybe we call it having sympathy for another when in reality it’s nothing more than our immature and egotistical urge to be of importance. It’s almost a biologically built-in urge to one-up the person we’re talking to. We rationalize it as trying to prove that their struggles are “not that bad” or that “it could be worse.”
It’s our bullshit reasoning for poking our ego where it has no business being, and in most cases, it’s a learned behavior.
The key to that statement is that it is a learned behavior.
The beautiful part of learned behaviors is that if we can learn something, we can also unlearn it. True, we may not be able to undo the past, we can’t un-say hurtful things, we can’t un-see an atrocity or horrible image, and we generally can’t un-feel something that hurt us. But, in time we can learn to forget or rather to grow past them.
Lucky for us, we can unlearn habits and behaviors we have learned. We can even alter the things we learned long before we realized we learned them. Yes, even things that are ingrained in our psyche via societal, cultural, or perhaps even genetically from birth can be changed because they are things we have learned.
If someone tells us something that we’ve been through before, it is easy to “put ourselves in their shoes”, so to speak. We can use that insider’s (experiential) knowledge to recall how we felt, what thoughts raced through our heads, the very real and frightening “What-if’s” we obsessed over to the point of anxiety-ridden, nervous breakdown.
Yet, think for a moment of a time someone shared a situation or hardship that you’ve never had to deal with, maybe one that no one you know has gone through. How do we respond then without the experiential wisdom that is only gained by living through it?
Most of us revert back to the above behavior of regurgitating the tired old, cliche sympathetic condolences we were taught conveyed emotional support.
These days, even the words “I’m sorry” have lost their punch and benevolent efficacy in our desensitized society. Think about how many times a day or week you’ve said those words…Did you actually mean it every time you said you were sorry? If so, good for you!
For the lot of us, an apology is nothing more than a quick and easy way to get off the hook without putting ourselves out on a line. We say it half-hearted to get on with it and past our embarrassing or uncomfortable moments where we do not know how to react or what the proper thing to say is.
It’s more common for most of us to simply pass by the beggar while doing our best to avoid making eye-contact, or to pretend we don’t see someone silently sobbing on a bench. It’s not that we’re heartless and evil beings totally void of emotion, we do so as a way of separating them from us. We do so, in hopes to avoid that uncomfortable position of having to acknowledge or face the crappy parts of life.
In a way, we are all hedonistic in nature and prefer to engage in happy and worry-free moments. We shy away from the downtrodden or troubles that remind us of our own vulnerability.
I don’t know who taught me this or where exactly I’ve heard it before, but I believe it with my heart of hearts that…
“The truest substance in life happens in the most vulnerable of moments.”
To truly get into someone’s world of struggle, it is not enough just to listen and simply offer up empty sentiments of condolence.
No – we need to try and envision ourselves in their shoes, facing the issues that they face. We have to feel the emotions they feel, fearing the consequence of their unique and life-altering reality. It is only then, in that shared vulnerability that a truly discerning comprehension can be attained.
But how? How do we experience something we have never undergone?
In order to really get into another person’s world of fears, hardships, and woe require that we separate our own suffering from that of another. What I mean to say is, we have to learn to remove the all-important “me” from the conversation.
If I want to gain your inside look at your struggle, I have to remove my egocentric way of thinking about and seeing the world to allow myself to see the situation with your eyes, to think with your possibly frantic or worried mind. Once we remove our ego-attachments, we can then open ourselves to the empathetic understanding that can only be gained through selflessly allowing ourselves to share in our vulnerability,
It is only then, that I can know what your hardship is. It is only after I remove my ego and view your struggle with your 360-degree, full-bodied journey through your life-altering ordeal that I may finally offer you true compassionate understanding and empathetic support.
This new and beautiful way of communicating allows for true empathetic understanding, and enables us to not only better understand each other, but also help each other to overcome our tumultuous trials and grow as individuals while also growing as communal partners in this wonderfully bizarre thing we call life.
I do not pretend to have all the answers, or how to remove your personal ego-attachments from the situations of others. What your ego-attachments and triggers to those attachments are or your ego’s defense mechanisms are come in as many colors, shapes, and sizes as the people in which you are interacting with and the unique situations that confront them.
A good start may be to exercise and grow our mindfulness of the world around us whether from meditation, or observation, or study, or any combination of means.
If it works for you then great! Teach someone else how you learned. Yet, bear in mind it may not be their way to let go of their ego-attachments. Each one of us is different in that department.
Every single one of us is different, and that is part of what makes us all so beautifully complex and why we struggle to actually understand what each other is going through. The key is to be open, be willing, and really attempt to connect with each other.
Who am I?
I am an incomplete masterpiece of the Universe’s design. And just as with any of Leonardo Davinci or Vincent VanGogh’s priceless artwork, I will take some time to be finished. So will you. You might be just the one to help complete me and hopefully, I can do the same for you.
I am not a prophet, but I am at times a teacher to those that need my words.
I am no longer in school, yet I will always be a student of this universe.
At times, I am selfish and prideful. In others, I am childish and frightened.
I am a perpetual work in progress, just like all of you.
I am simply me.
My struggles may be similar to yours, or they may not.
They are not bigger, worse, scarier, or more awful than yours.
They are merely different from yours.
If by chance you find yourself somewhere I might have traversed through, I offer my experience and my hand to you. If you need someone to call, then you can call on me. If you need someone to crawl with you then we shall crawl the foreign grounds of struggle together.
I am no different than you. I am human. I am perfectly imperfect and in search of a full and happy life and if you are of like mind, then I invite you to make a leap of perspective into living a wide-open life of compassion for your fellow travelers to see beneath the surface without fear and foster true, compassionate understanding.
I dare you to walk a mile with a complete stranger. See the world through their eyes, feel the ground as it feels through the holes in their worn-out shoes, and stare at the fears they face with them in unwavering compassion and empathy.
If we can all learn to better understand each other and the struggles we face both publicly and alone, imagine how well we can serve each other and empower one another to grow to become the best version of ourselves.
Be fearless and true. Be the beauty that is you. Be blissfully blessed and remain open – ever willing to reach out to catch those in need. Because once in a while, everyone needs a kickstand to keep from falling down.