“The real warriors in this world are the ones that see the details of another’s soul. They see the transparency behind walls people put up. They stand on the battlefield of life and expose their heart’s transparency, so others can finish the day with hope. They are the sensitive souls that understand that before they could be a light they first had to feel the burn.” Shannon L. Adler
One of my favorite words of all time is Namaste. I wish it’s because I’m some super fit yoga master, but it boils down to a love of the concept. Namaste essentially means that my soul honors and respects your soul (Spiritual Science Research Foundation, n.d.). Regardless of your own spiritual persuasion, how simple and yet utterly powerful is that? What’s even more amazing is that it is a common greeting in India. Can you imagine someone coming up to you, looking you in the eye, and saying, “I see you. My broken and beaten spirit respects your broken and beaten spirit.”
Besides the fact that this would be way out of the norm and borderline creepy, think about the implications. That person is acknowledging that there is more to you than just skin, bones, and some gooey insides. You aren’t just social status, a political party, or a mental illness. You aren’t a religion, a sexual orientation, or even a gender. Strip all that away and you are a soul – a soul that deserves respect and love in equal parts. You deserve to be seen.
Here’s the kicker, though – the only way to truly see someone else is to look outside of ourselves. How true that “when we zoom out, we start to see a completely different picture. We see many people in the same struggle” (Brown, 2010, p. 68). We are all human. We are all stumbling around in the dark looking for meaning and hope. It should not be a solitary, lonely journey to find the light that does exist. If we hope to come together, this will require a great amount of respect, empathy, and compassion.
“When compassion wakes up in us, we find ourselves more willing to become vulnerable, to take the risk of entering the pain of others.” Sue Monk Kidd
Respect is a noun: “Esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person” (n.d.).
Empathy is a noun: “The ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation” (n.d.).
Compassion is a noun: “A feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering” (n.d.).
We all learned in school that a noun is a person, place, or thing. I like to think of respect, empathy, and compassion as living, breathing things. They must be nourished, cared for, and exercised on a regular basis, otherwise they will become emaciated and possibly even die. This society is sinking fast because we have lost sight of the humanity – the souls – that surround us every day. We don’t acknowledge and respect each other. Empathic actions are few and far between, rarely without some sort of agenda.
The sooner we realize that life is a level playing field, the better equipped we will become to face our challenges together. Brené Brown says that “compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others” (Brown, 2010, p. 16). I love the almost negative vibe this statement gives off. It would be great if a little compassion would kick start a revolution that would make life happy and full of butterflies and unicorns. But we live in a broken, dank, stinking world full of lonely hearts. True compassion brings lonely hearts together. It may not bring happiness or even joy, but it will bring shared hurt and darkness to the surface so that status, income level, or politics are no longer a barrier to camaraderie.
Misery loves company. Empathy brings our miserable selves together so that we can face the uphill battle as a team. I may carry you today, but tomorrow you will need to support me.
Empathy breaks down walls. Whenever I am feeling upset or frustrated with someone, I try to take a step back and consider times in my life when I have behaved in a similar manner. Again – the key is recognizing that we are all fallible, imperfect humans…kindred spirits in our brokenness.
An everyday example is when someone makes a mistake while driving in front of, behind, or beside me. Instead of diving head first into road rage, I think about the time a few months back when I did something similar. I have failed to start right away at a green light. I have failed to use my blinker when changing lanes. I have unintentionally swerved into the lane beside me while fiddling with the radio. Who am I to get upset with them for doing something I myself have done (probably more than once!)?
Another example is if a server at a restaurant is running behind, seems distracted, or makes a mistake. I’ve noticed that people who tend to fly off the handle about these things have never worked in the restaurant business, so they don’t necessarily understand the many possible causes of a delayed order or a drink mix up. Also I/we don’t know what’s going on in their personal life. For all I know, they may be going through a particularly traumatic divorce, are mentally preparing for some grueling finals at school, or just had to put their pet to sleep. I know when I am stressed or just went through an emotional experience, my memory suffers and I have a more difficult time keeping track of things. Knowing how I feel when I’ve had a rough day/week/year, how can I judge someone else for not smiling or for taking 10 minutes to bring me my salad instead of five. Unless you know exactly what is happening in someone else’s life, it’s so much better to see the humanity in their actions and acknowledge that they are no different from you or me.
If you see a homeless person, a drug addict, or an alcoholic, don’t get on your high horse and behave as if they are a lesser human than you. Likely, whatever caused them to go down their chosen path is a combination of genetic disposition and some sort of traumatic life event. When stigma is placed and stories are forced underground, we end up alone and seeking out unhealthy coping mechanisms. Just because I am currently living with a roof over my head and don’t self-medicate with alcohol every night doesn’t mean my own coping mechanisms are any healthier. We can judge a person until we’re blue in the face, but ultimately, they are no different from us.
Another thing worth pointing out is that, just because you disagree with their lifestyle or don’t condone some of their choices, it does not give you the right to treat them with anything other than respect, empathy, and compassion. It’s like saying the color blue is better than the color yellow. Why? Because it’s my favorite color and I like it better. But yellow is just as beautiful a color, but because you are biased, you declare that blue is right and yellow is wrong. That may seem like an absurdly simple example, but it dumbs down a tragic epidemic that has been sweeping this nation for years – the loss of respect for every human’s beauty and the appreciation for basic human goodness. We are all in this together, folks. The sooner we as a collective group can see the beauty in that, the sooner our society’s rifts will start to heal.
“Allow beauty to shatter you regularly. The loveliest people are the ones who have been burnt and broken and torn at the seams, yet still send their open hearts into the world to mend with love again, and again, and again.” Victoria Erickson
I’ve felt a growing sense of urgency about this post over the last few days, especially going into Christmas. I challenge myself and everyone else to make a conscience effort to live in a way that spews forth love, not hate…mercy, not malice…forgiveness, not blame.
A message to the hurting (which is basically everyone): You are not alone. You don’t have to face your mountains and valleys by yourself. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. A little vulnerability has the potential to save lives. Don’t give up. Hold out your hand and someone will take it. I see you. Dear, sweet, struggling person….I see you.
Adler, Shannon L. (n.d.) Retrieved from Goodreads.
Brown, Brene. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing.
Compassion. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/compassion
Empathy. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.google.com/amp/s/dictionary.cambridge.org/us/amp/english/empathy
Respect. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/respect
Spiritual Science Research Foundation. (n.d.). Definition and Meaning of Namaskar (Namaste). Retrieved from https://www.spiritualresearchfoundation.org/spiritual-living/how-should-we-greet/define-namaskar-namaste-meaning/
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