Jan. 24, 2020

Responding with Compassion... it's Not Always Easy

Have you ever had an interaction that pushed you to your limits of kindness?  You may strive to always be fair and compassionate, but sometimes we encounter such negative energy that it throws us off. 

The natural human reaction is to match energy, as energy is contagious.  If someone is acting aggressive, we instinctively become equally defensive.  It's a survival response.  This is understandable.  It's a defense mechanism designed to keep us safe much like the "fight or flight" response when we had to worry about a lion or bear eating us, once upon a time.

So don't judge yourself, first off.  Become aware of your involuntary reaction, and witness your response.  Sometimes it is difficult NOT to get defensive when we are being yelled at, for example, for no apparent reason.  You may find your heart racing and voice quivering, trying to defend yourself from a baseless attack.

I recently had such an experience where I was yelled at because my office is located near the 405 where some vulnerable people sleep in tents, and they found this to be unacceptable to be around, which was somehow my fault.  This interaction really caught me off-guard and I found myself getting defensive, not just for me, but for the people whose only crime was not having the same opportunities and resources as this individual who lived in a more affluent part of town.

I had to calm myself and remember what I already know:  None of us are separate from one another.  We are connected in this world, and when one of us suffers, we all do.  Even if this fact was lost on this individual, I had to see them from a different perspective, not a defensive one.  I asked myself:  "What experiences had this person had to respond with anger at the sight of people less fortunate than them?"

The way we think & feel is always a byproduct of our experiences, and what those experiences taught us, consciously or unconsciously.  This person learned the myth of separation somewhere along the way, and held it as truth in their heart.  It's important that we take a step back and observe the situation we find ourselves in, and look at it objectively.  

The truth is we are all traumatized.  There is not one person alive today whom has not experienced trauma.  Trauma teaches us "truths" about ourselves and others, which we take as truth, regardless of how false these "truths" might be.

Seeing this person as someone who has experienced trauma, and is unconscious of their own offensive beliefs and behaviors is not their fault.  They are a victim of some circumstance, whether or not they are aware of it.  We all are.  That's why we hate & hurt each other.

Having compassion for someone who is hurtful to others is the only way to not be hurt by their behavior.  Understand that the thoughts they are thinking do not feel good in their own body, they do not see this correlation or how they are responsible for their thoughts, and want to externalize their responsibility and blame others for the way they feel.  That is heartbreaking.  

When we experience trauma, part of us becomes frozen in time, and when we are triggered, we revert back to that age.  Seeing someone as an angry child, who is honestly just scared of what they don't understand, instead of a grown adult is the best way to handle someone who is being aggressive.  It is easier to have compassion for this hurt child who was traumatized vs. the adult who should know better.

I wish I could say being constantly aware of your own reaction was an easy path to walk, when our natural instinct is to become defensive in these situations.  However, if you can hold the awareness in your heart that even spiteful people are hurting, and you are inseparable from them, so their pain is your pain, you can choose to respond in a way that mitigates further aggression instead of adding fuel to the fire.

Respond with love and compassion for the innocence that they lost somewhere along the way.  Understand part of them does not want to be this way, that it doesn't feel good in their own body to think this way, but they've been programmed and conditioned a certain way, and they haven't connected the dots.  They are trapped in their own hate, which is merely a reflection of how they feel about themselves.  

The truth is, we treat others the way we feel about ourselves.  So the more we hate others, the more we hate ourselves.  Understand this, and choose compassion for someone trapped in their own hate, because deep down they don't want to be hurting either.

It's not always easy to do, but if we can train ourselves to respond with grace and compassion instead of matching their anger, we can be the example of a better way.  If we all consciously do this, we can create a path to eradicate hate in this world... and wouldn't that just feel better for all of us?

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