The Seven Pillars of Wisdom
Pillar 4 - Practice Compassion
The Phoenix Perspective:
Always err on the side of cutting people some slack; they're doing the best they can.
Compassion provides space for change.
Compassion. Serious, this.
Much of the time, we are caught in making judgments about others. Judgments are mental processes, where we compare “what’s happening” to what we believe “ought to be happening.” (Otherwise known as “The Gospel According to Me.”) So, for example, you might have a prejudgment (a prejudice) about what an “ideal” partner would be like. You then compare your partner to your “imaginary friend.” The partner is found to be lacking, as compared to the fantasy version in your head.
Typically, the first response is to try to change the other person, through manipulative behaviours like crying, guilting, or the infamous “If you loved me, you’d . . .” As if all the other person had to do was to listen to you and go, “You’re right! I was such a fool.”
The next level of maturity is finally getting past expecting our partner to change so you can be happy, but then getting stuck offering advice for the other person’s “own good.” In this mode, I pretend that it’s not about me; I’m only interested in helping you to see the light. To move past this one is difficult, as this requires that I accept the following:
We seldom know what is good for us, let along for someone else.
The vast majority of people are doing the best that they can with the resources and understandings they have. Unsolicited advice directed at getting a person to have an experience other than the one they are having will not work. People do not change simply because you want them to. We learn from our own, personal ways of dealing with experiences. We learn from those things that work and especially do we learn from what doesn’t work. Most advice giving disrespects the other person and the process.
I suspect that life and relationships would move along much more smoothly if we simply returned our noses to our side of the fence, then got out a mirror and had a look at the shiny side. We’d then know whom we ought to be working on.
Which is not to say that I (or you!) should be disinterested in the growth of those around you, and especially the growth of your principal partner. Scott Peck once said that one reason to be in relationship with someone was to actively participate in that person’s Spiritual growth. Just remember: it is one thing to participate; it is another thing altogether to think you know what that Spiritual growth should look like.
On the other hand, I am writing this, which could appear to be “advice-giving.” The difference here is that I have nothing invested in you buying into what I am writing. I am simply stating what I believe to be workable in my life. What I will do in our time together is to suggest that you view your life and discover what is getting you the results you want, and what isn’t. What you choose to do with what you discover is entirely up to you.
Jesus supposedly once used a line about how common and problematic it was to notice the speck in your neighbour’s eye while missing the log in your own. Compassion means knowing that we each struggle with issues unique to ourselves. That you understand something does not mean that those who do not are stupid or lazy. They just don’t understand what you understand.
Compassion means being supportive of their struggle, while not attempting to direct it. And compassion means focusing on what you have left to learn, as opposed to distracting yourself with the path of those around you.
At the end of the day, as we noted last week, walking such a walk may mean leaving people behind. Even this action is done from compassion - compassion for them and for yourself. In the end, where we go and how we get there is a walk that is uniquely our own. Sometimes we are wise and pick our traveling partner well. Most times, paths diverge and twist and turn.
I work out of a place of great curiosity and fascination regarding those around me, and especially those I am close to. (And, of course, absolutely in terms of my relationship with Dar.) I am willing to be honest and open about what I know about myself, and my intention is that others will be open and honest with me. Having said that, compassion dictates that I remain available to share, without thinking I know how or where another should be walking.
Cutting others and myself some slack, through compassion, is much more effective than any lecture. It just takes the discipline of being silent while also being fully engaged.
Your eleventh exercise: Who needs your compassion and patience? What will you have to do to remind yourself to participate in another’s growth, while not attempting to dictate the direction?