“Because they are human, they suffer. Those who have a better story, a ‘healthier’ childhood, a more impressive résumé, better looks, connections, or education, suffer. Those who are less fortunate than ‘me’ also suffer. Those who are able or good suffer as do those who are weak or mean.” (Laurence Boldt, The Tao of Abundance 94)
Recently, on The Love Hour with Marchae White, Ms. White asked me what one of the key ingredients of my coaching work is. The first thing that popped into my head was compassion. I believe that compassion for self and for others is fundamental to our happiness and self-actualization. Further, I believe compassion is one of the keys to the much needed healing of our planet. For most of us, common sense or our intuition tell us that compassion is a much kinder and gentler way to roll than judgment and harshness.
Often, it is easier for us to have compassion for ourselves than others because we know where we are coming from in life. We understand our own point of view, values, and belief system. We also know all of the nuances that went into that decision we made that didn’t turn out so well. We know how painful that situation really was and how hard we worked to get beyond it. When we look at others and their situations, we may forget that they also have been at the effect of many unseen circumstances in their lives. In fact, what appears to be just pure selfishness or even stupidity to us may be the result of a myriad factors that someone is dealing with and trying their best to negotiate.
One way to move beyond judgment and into compassion is to remember that suffering is universal. We have all known suffering. If we assume that a sister is suffering and we start our relationship or even the conversation on a note of compassion, we have cut to the chase so to speak. We have already moved beyond many barriers to intimacy.
There was a poignant Asian parable I once read about a woman who was devastated by the death of her child. In grief, she asked her spiritual teacher/coach how she might go beyond the burden of her suffering and grief. The coach suggested that she go from house to house and find a family that has not suffered deeply. She realized through her exercise that she is not alone in her suffering. She had not been singled out by God. Suffering is universal. She was still grieving at the end of her assignment, but she was comforted deeply in knowing that she was not alone. She also was giving a coping model through her experience; others survived and, if she chose, she would also.
I often think of human beings as having three identities: public, private, and secret. I remember an example from the 80s movie The Big Chill. For those of you who didn’t see it, a handful of college friends reunite for the funeral of their dear college friend. Glen Close’s character, Sarah Cooper, appears to outsiders to be someone who is strong and steadfast at the time of their reunion (public face). With her most intimate group of friends she reveals some deeper and more private feelings about the death (private face). Later, we see her crying alone in the shower, obviously devastated by the loss of her friend. This also helps the audience to gain the insight that the relationship with her deceased male friend was probably profoundly intimate (secret face).
It doesn’t take a doctor of life coaching to help us recognize that it can be a rough world out there. Even if we never see someone’s secret face, let’s remember that they have one. To not acknowledge this might originate from callousness, naiveté, or some other form of denial. In the end, we hurt only hurt ourselves if we don’t embrace compassion. After all, when we extend compassion, we are one of the beneficiaries.