Much of the world received a bit of shock this week with the election results, and emotions have been high for many. I was surprised by the news myself, not quite sure how to process it or what it would mean for me and for other people.
I began to practice what I often do when troubling thoughts and emotions arise: I tried to observe them with interest. It’s easy for me to get caught up in the anxiety of uncertainty and make it my reality. I had to find my center, remembering who I am below these stories in order to choose an empowered and helpful response.
I began tapping into a feeling of gratitude for this wondrous experience of being alive at all, and for the chance to live another day. I looked out my window at the sky and the trees that were still there, as beautiful as ever, and felt the air on my skin as my emotions swirled inside. Soon, I reached a place of peace where I was able to give myself the love, acceptance, and assurance I wanted from the outside.
But it didn’t last long.
I soon became aware of the serious situations many people are experiencing right now, and felt compassion for their struggle to reach a place of safety and peace. While the world may never have been empty of those in pain and suffering, more of it seems to have been brought to the surface for me the past few days in a way that made it hard to ignore.
I live a life relatively sheltered from serious violence. My close social circles tend to include well-traveled individuals and those who honor the humanity in all people, regardless of their race, sexual orientation, handicaps, or social circumstances. I simply don’t see examples of discrimination in my personal life, and have long felt removed from this problem.
But what I’ve only recently started to realize is how pervasive these problems are, often by nature of the very culture we’re created.
I believe that peace can not be given to us, but is something we must choose to develop within ourselves, regardless of our circumstances. It’s strictly an inner game.
But what I often fail to acknowledge is that there are outer circumstances that can make that inner game much more difficult to play.
There are different levels of victimization and oppression. From my travels to over 32 countries, I’ve come believe that the vast majority of people in this world are good and kind. But while we may not be bullying people on the subway, is it possible that we’re subconsciously alienating groups of people who need more acknowledgement and support?
When I hear about problems happening to people I don’t know who live far away, I’m often unclear about what I can do to help, or if it’s even my place to intercede. I think it’s important to respect our boundaries and the amount of negativity we choose to consume. I avoid watching the news for this reason. But when is it appropriate to step in, and how?
I don’t know what the answer is for you. I like to think I’m playing a part to help by trying to embody kindness and compassion in all conversation, and also by trying to empower people to rise above their circumstances and find financial and emotional well-being through outlets like this blog. At least it’s a start. I also believe in the power of travel as a catalyst for personal growth and global understanding.
But if there’s one thing I’d like to see more of in the world, and demonstrate more of myself, it’s compassion.
A Call for Compassion
During this time, when there seems to be a greater level of anger and hate expressed toward those seen as the oppressors, or the enemy, I want to draw attention to what I see as a crucial step to peace that is so often discounted – the willingness to see the humanity in the oppressor.
While victims of oppression certainly need to compassion and support, as unpopular as it may be to say, I think that this compassion may be just as necessary for the oppressor.
Hurt people hurt people. Those who oppress others have their own pain, and they need to feel heard and have their own needs validated just as much as the rest of us. What would it be like to be them, with their upbringing, history, and personal struggles?
Of course, this isn’t license to encourage oppression to continue, or to disempower ourselves from taking action to change harmful situations. I am inviting us to extend our compassion to every human being, as we are able.
No one on this planet is immune from hardship and suffering. Everybody deserves love and compassion and understanding, even and especially in their most vicious acts. I believe lasting change happens no other way.
Shaming someone into doing good or forcing them into obedience may bring short-term results, but long-term, I believe it cycles back in waves of resentment, rebellion, and revenge. Those who’ve tried it on their kids understand this.
Not that everyone will change instantly by simply giving them love. Some people have strong barriers up that prevent them from receiving it, often walled up from years of trying to protect themselves from pain.
For some, perhaps the only way they will soften is if we stop trying to change them at all, and become a friend, seeking to understand, empathize, and accept them as they are, so they have a safe space to begin healing in their own way when they’re ready. Perhaps some will never cease their cruelty, and I think they, too, deserve our compassion and forgiveness, as we work to resolve the circumstances that caused their situation, and while protecting ourselves and others from harm.
One of my favorite quotes since I was a child is from a 19th century black civil rights activist named Booker T. Washington. He said:
“I will permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.”
This is not unlike the words of Jesus in the Bible, who, while his hands were nailed to a piece of wood said:
“Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do.”
I acknowledge that this level of forgiveness may be out of reach for some of those under the thumb of oppression. To you who are struggling, hang in there the best you can. You are loved and needed. But for those who are able, I believe our own health and well-being as individuals and as a species depend on our ability to cultivate global compassion.
You may feel justifiably angry or sad. And if so, feel it. Feel it all the way. This is necessary and helpful. But once you’ve felt it, be willing to let it go.
Let it go so your future actions may arise from a place of wholeness rather than be driven by an “us vs. them” reaction to a negative circumstance.
I still struggle to let go of negativity and judgment. But it’s gotten easier with practice, and the improvements have been a benefit to nearly every area of my life. Having self-compassion and patience with myself have also been essential ingredients for me.
If you would like to see the humanity in another, but struggle to do so due to a person’s race or sexual orientation, their past behavior or stated intentions, their income level or social status, their political preferences or tone of voice, or for any reason at all, I invite you to drop the labels and try to see the person as a part of the thread of humanity that we all belong to. You can start to do this by giving more attention to the feelings inside of yourself than the stories your mind is telling you about them. More on that here, here, and here.
We cannot create love in our world when we’re focusing on the hate in our hearts. Acknowledge what’s there, and then recognize your own power to choose, and embody the love that you want to see in the world.
It starts inwardly in our thoughts and emotions, and then, as a natural result, outwardly in our words and actions.
Be love, my friends. And love you will always have.
On the topic of spreading love, here’s a sweet song my 13-year-old daughter just wrote. Hope you enjoy!