Compassion

The Art of Being Human

Volunteers working on hundreds of Amazon donations received at Austin Pets Alive.

Volunteers working on hundreds of Amazon donations received at Austin Pets Alive.

We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness.
— Charlie Chaplan

This month has been a particularly difficult one. I've spent a good portion of it feeling outraged, sorrowful, hurt, disappointed, and confused. The events of the last few weeks beginning in Charlottesville and what played out on the national stage to the recent devastation from Hurricane Harvey have weighed heavily. The emotional, physical, mental and spiritual trauma of injustice and displacement leave its mark. To belittle and strip humans of their inherent dignity and worth is wrong. It's beyond wrong, it's evil. To lose one's home and sense of safety is distressing and overwhelming. It's traumatizing. 

To belittle and strip humans of their inherent dignity and worth is wrong. It’s beyond wrong, it’s evil.

To lose one’s home and sense of safety is distressing and overwhelming. It’s traumatizing.

As a counselor, I face stories of evil and trauma often. It's not easy for me but why I do what I do, how I can do what I do, is because of what my clients bring. Their resilience, their courage, their willingness to fight the lies and fight for restoration to find their voice, their freedom, their meaning is something to behold. I often don't feel worthy of this work but am greatly aware of its privilege. My clients show me what it is to be human in all its beauty, glory, sacrifice and triumph. 

My clients show me what it is to be human in all its beauty, glory, sacrifice, and triumph.

Earlier this week, I witnessed on a larger scale what it means to be human. My city and fellow Texans fulfilling the command to love one's neighbor. I feel inspired, encouraged, and amazed by seeing others seek to restore and speak into sorrow through whatever means possible. Yesterday, my sister and I arrived at Austin Pets Alive to see scores of volunteers organizing the hundreds of donated boxes that carried much-needed supplies to care for the 300+ animals that needed shelter

We went to Costco and you could feel it in the air: this powerful sense of taking up the cause because our fellow humans, though strangers to us, need us. So there I am in Costco inspired by the carts filled with bulk items waiting to be driven across cities along the coast just because that's what it means to participate in this being human. It means caring about others' misfortune and their plight. It means taking up the banner on their behalf. And while there are many who would seek to destroy, there are many more who make it their mission to build up. 

What it means to be human: caring about others’ misfortune and their plight, taking up the banner on their behalf.

And while there are many who would seek to destroy, there are many more who make it their mission to build up.

I am well aware that often times we rise to the challenge when we see humanity threatened and then easily return to states of selfish preoccupation. I'm well aware that across this country and countries over, there is horror occurring with little being done. I'm well aware that this post doesn't change the hate that was spoken (still spoken) and experienced or that highlighting local acts of kindness doesn't change that there is real suffering. This post isn't meant to minimize the pain.

In moments like this, when we're in crisis, I think it necessary to see what human agency is capable of (both for harm and for blessing). It's necessary that when we feel helpless and powerless to consider what is within our personal, social and cultural jurisdiction and ask what one's contribution is. How can your voice reflect what it means to be human and what action will it lead you towards?

I am confident goodness has the final say. So let us be a people and community that uses our words for this important conversation. 

{if you have not yet been able to contribute for Hurricane Harvey relief, please take some time to consider how you might be able to donate. Even looking around your pantry and giving your non-perishable food items will go a long way! I've included links above for ways you can help.}

Porch views

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.
— Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

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.

“Atticus, he was real nice.”

”Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”
— To Kill a Mockingbird