Recently I drove by a school after hours and saw a woman I can only guess might have been a teacher leaving for the day. She had a bag in each hand and looked exhausted. She paused to readjust her grip and closed her eyes for a minute saying some silent prayer or curse – not sure which. And I wondered what the rest of her story might be. Had she had a difficult day? Had she finally had a breakthrough with a challenging student? Was she headed home to a lonesome and quiet house? Was she bracing herself for the rush of children or pets that would greet her at the door? Was her mother ill or had her father just remarried? Did she hate cooking dinner every night or relax with a glass of wine and classical music while chopping vegetables? What was going on that the eyes couldn’t see?
This is how my mind works. These are the kinds of things I wonder. Do you ponder these things? If not, I invite you to start. I think it helps build compassion for others.
I think that as a storyteller I naturally wonder what’s behind someone’s smile or frown. I also think that it’s a way of connecting with people and caring about others. Wanting to connect with others is a natural part of me too – comes with the rose colored glasses. Think about it, though. While you’re wrapped up in whatever it is you’re wrapped up in, others are dealing with their own stuff. What if we met each other somewhere in the middle, with a touch of grace and a little leeway?
Is the mom at the grocery store struggling with depression as she wrangles her kids? Did the kids just come from a birthday party where they ate more sugar in two hours than they usually have in a week? Is their other parent deployed or in jail or deceased? Maybe the woman you just assumed needed to get more control over her herd of children was beaten last night or took pills just to have what it would take to get up and to the grocery store to get food. Maybe your frustrated assumption is right. Maybe not.
What if we gave people the benefit of the doubt as a general rule? Couldn’t hurt, could it? There may be some nay-sayers among you who think it’s more honest to believe what’s most likely or most obvious – that mom just can’t parent. I challenge you, especially, to think about compassion as, “a feature of strength, not weakness.” I came across this timely quote today while reading The Book of Joy, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams. That’s right…powerful men, respected by so many around the world, see thinking of other’s struggles and wanting to be part of the solution or at least show sympathy as a good thing. As a thing that makes us better individuals, which makes us better neighbors and coworkers, which leads to better communities…
My world of rainbows is a great place to be.
What my point is, though, is that the “jerk” at the gym might be acting tough because he’s hurting inside and might not even know it. The “jack wagon” driving aggressively might have diarrhea and be trying to get to a toilet. (My mom learned that one in a defensive driving course.) The “annoying kid” who is pestering constantly might be doing so because they’re ignored at home or hungry or lonely.
Who are we to judge? I know I’ve been a jerk and a jack wagon and annoying from time to time. Hopefully those that looked at me did so through rose colored glasses and found compassion for the time and place I was in my life. Even if they didn’t, that’s how I hope to greet the world this week…doling out a little extra love.