It’s a rough world out there. And I don’t only mean the real world, where people are dying in hurricanes and in suicide bombings and road rage. The fake worlds we have created, the supposedly meaningless ones that are meant to be for sheer entertainment purposes only, are becoming rougher and rougher. We recently survived a hurricane around here and even though we were spared with only a couple thousand tree pieces to clean up, a lot of people weren’t so lucky. And as all good American citizens, my family and I were glued to the weather channel for a good 24 hours straight. (I distinctly remember as a child watching my parents watch the Weather Channel during severe weather and thinking they were clearly nuts to be watching something so dull during such a boring time. And then this weekend I found myself shushing Levi so that I could watch footage of the bending palm trees and shingles flying through the air at the beach. Oh, the irony.) Regardless, there was a lot of footage of the beach to be watched and one of the things I found so fascinating was how the ocean changed as the storm approached. Even when the storm was miles off the coast and the skies were still bright and sunny, the ocean warned of what was churning off shore. The white caps were angrier looking and the sea had a funny color to it. Something wicked this way was definitely coming.
My social media feeds have started to look that way. They have been getting choppier and choppier these past few months and now there is no denying that we are in the middle of a storm. Our beaches are being battered and our cities are being flooded and to be honest, there is no high ground to be found. There is no refuge. We have made this fake world a very unsafe place. Anger runs rampant. It is almost impossible to post a link, a thought or an idea without incurring someone’s wrath. (Except online quizzes that tell us which celebrity our Starbuck’s orders most resemble. Those are always valuable and valid and welcome.)
As I scroll through and, to be quite honest, unfollow a lot of people, not for their differing opinion than mine but just because my heart doesn’t have room for one more drop of anger, I am overwhelmed by the lack of compassion I see. And before you assume this post is one gigantic guilty trip to remind you that over 800 people died in a hurricane this week and you should complain about that to God instead of your dog’s allergy issues, let me just stop you right there. Yes, have compassion for those 800 families that now grieve. And I guess have compassion for your dog because obviously you love him and his gluten intolerance. But also take a minute and ask yourself, “How much compassion do I give myself?”
I am reading through Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection with a stellar group of women on Thursday mornings and our current guidepost is all about extending compassion to yourself. In an earlier chapter, Brene Brown poses the theory that you can only love the people in your life as much as you love yourself. I think the same thing is probably true about compassion. You can only show as much compassion to others as you show yourself. Showing compassion is different than empathy or even grace. Compassion is defined as showing a deep feeling of sympathy or sorrow for someone else’s loss. It can be displayed in a variety of ways, ranging from sharing your tears with someone else to simply cutting someone a little bit of slack.
Brene Brown references another researcher in this guidepost named Kristin Neff. Dr. Neff has a great online resource for determining just how self-compassionate you really are in the form of an online quiz. (Because she knows that if its a quiz and online people will go nuts for it.) You can take this quick here. Take a long look at your results. I’ll be completely vulnerable and candid here and tell you that when I first took this test earlier this summer, I bombed. Big time. Not just like a little bit. It was almost laughable how terrible my score was. I laughed, actually. My counselor, not so much.
And when I looked at those low numbers and the areas in my life in which my lack of self-compassion was having an affect on others, it was no wonder that I found myself more times than not struggling to have compassion for other people. Mentally, I wouldn’t even let myself off the hook for a simple spelling error! Why in the world would I think I could let that fellow writer over there off the hook for hers? I couldn’t even extend myself the simple mercy of having a few sick days when Levi’s cold jumped from him to me. So why did I think I could show Greg any empathy when it jumped again over to his side of the world? Our inability to show ourselves compassion limits the amount of compassion we are able to show others. If for no other reason than to be able to show your fellow man a little bit of compassion on a cold, hard day take the time to let yourself off the hook every now and again.
Showing compassion doesn’t mean you don’t feel anger at the injustices of our world. It doesn’t mean letting the bad guy win. But it does mean that you let yourself grieve when you are sad. It means that you take time to feel all the feels with yourself and others. It means that before you let out a string of f-bombs and voodoo curses out at someone on the Internet that you don’t even know, that you take a deep breath. You count to 10. And maybe you count to 10 again depending on how incredibly stupid you feel the Internet stranger is. And then you either walk away or you engage in lively and respectful discourse. You don’t blow up. You remember that we are all human. We all make mistakes and most important of all, we don’t realize we are making mistakes while we are making them. It takes a big person to forgive when someone is apologizing. It takes a compassionate person to forgive while they are still being sinned against.
Show compassion for yourself. And then, out of that well spring of life in your heart, show compassion for others. And we will all ride out the storm together, ready to bag up the debris and rebuild the cities once it has passed.