One of my favorite pieces of literature is Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. I read it for the first time as a freshman in high school as part of our summer reading assignments. The relationship formed between Scout Finch and Boo Radley left me with a powerful example of compassion. At the end of the novel, young Scout stands on the porch of the reclusive town outcast Boo Radley. She looks out and for the first time, sees how he sees and experiences the world. And something within her shifts.
It is a profound gift to offer and receive the compassion of another human being. Someone willing to step into our skin, to stand on our porch, in order to understand. Compassion begets empathy; empathy is the foundation for authentic relational connection. Without the cornerstone of compassion, we cannot be in healthy, thriving relationship. Relationship is disrupted when we demand others behave as we want and judge their motives. It is only when we choose to see the world as others see can we begin to understand what author Ian Morgan Cron describes, "one's behavior is born out of a singular biography, a particular wound, a fractured vision of life". This is true for our own stories; we all see from our own porch steps. In order to live fully, we must pay attention to the experiences that have shaped us. The more we acknowledge these defining stories, the more deeply we will feel compassion for others and ourselves.
While we can't change WHAT we see or what others see, we can consider HOW we see. This posture creates a beautiful greenhouse of transformation. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist teacher, explains, "When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can't accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don't make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform."
As we cultivate a heart of compassion, our vision becomes more clear; our vantage point expands to see what we couldn't see before and something within us shifts.