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  • Writer's pictureMark McMinn

Rediscovering Compassion

Updated: Mar 12

What's happened to us?


In the past week an elected U.S. Representative heckled the President during a nationally televised speech with a history of decorum. Another visible Republican publicly mocked the President's longstanding speech impediment. And lest Democrats feel smug about any of this, consider how vicious they have been to the Senator from Alabama who rebutted the President's State of the Union address.


Vitriol has won the day.



Do we not realize that these are human beings who feel the same about public shame as any of us might? These are people with friends and partners and children and some with grandchildren, who consist of the same basic mixture of virtue and self-deception we all carry. They bleed just as quickly and surely as you and I do.


And so I wonder, what happened to us? How can we understand and correct for this profoundly diminished capacity for human compassion?


Much public narrative these days refers to "before COVID" and "after COVID," aptly recognizing this pivot point in history. Maybe that's what happened: we survived a pandemic in our bodies, but not our souls.


I also imagine this stew is thicker than we think. The ingredients must certainly include contentious elections, the rise of social media, increasing rates of narcissism, a loneliness epidemic, and the popularity of cancel culture. And yes, that horrific pandemic.


Last week a breeze of grace carried words from a Buddhist nun into my email inbox. Pema Chödrön observes:


"Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity." (Pema Chödrön, The Places that Scare You)

For context, I'm writing a series of blog posts on a construct known as The Quiet Ego, which involves: detached awareness, interdependence, compassion, and growth. Chödrön's words invite me toward compassion, toward quiet, toward humility.


If I'm better than you--smarter, wiser, more informed or righteous--then compassion is hard to find because you and I are standing on different rungs of a ladder to nowhere. Vast amounts of social and cognitive psychology show how tirelessly we work to elevate ourselves above others. We may not admit it aloud, but most often we see ourselves as better than those with whom we disagree.


Take a moment and try something different. Get very quiet. Step outside into nature if you can. Listen to the song birds pointing us toward another spring, notice the flowers blossoming, run your hands through the soil, look up into the towering trees on the horizon, and then ponder shared humanity. We are all so small, so dependent on this Earth-home, so interconnected with one another, so desperate for being seen and loved. All of us.




We are more similar than different.


And Chödrön's words echo: "compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity."


As a Christian, I have a lifelong fascination with the concept of grace. An author I admire has defined grace as "love without contingencies." When brushing up against grace we encounter our greatest joys wrapped in the delight of being known and loved more fully than we might ever imagine possible. We also find our profoundest tragedies in our longing for grace, where we are unknown, unseen, unloved, unforgiven, undone. Grace is both our greatest joy and most elusive dream.


Compassion lives here, where the possibility and impossibility of grace meet.


I want to quiet my ego, to lean toward compassion, and I invite you to do the same. Here are three specific shapes this invitation might take as you ponder these words:


  • Consider someone with whom you disagree. Where do you see your shared humanity? What deep longings do you share in common? How do you each feel when another misunderstands, misrepresents, insults, or injures you? What do you each experience when another understands you deeply? You can even turn my simple Venn Diagram into a little jingle: "You, Me, Shared Humanity." It rhymes!



  • Some psychologists have coined a term, "Compassion Deficit Disorder." Do you ever see it in yourself? How might you strive to overcome the deficits in your own compassion?

  • Do you, like me, yearn for grace? How do you notice this in your relationship with others? With the divine? What might it be like to imagine that others have this same longing?


Shh... Be quiet. Let's notice our common human yearning for compassion.


 

 Previous Posts in this Series:



 

Note: This blog is not monetized, and I never anticipate it to be. My hope is just to bring a bit of positive psychology to one small corner of the world. Ha! As if the world has corners...








2 Comments


Mike Cain
Mike Cain
Mar 12

Hi Mark. So very much enjoyed your blog. This is so very much in line with my own soul at this time and place in my life. Mike Cain

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Mark McMinn
Mark McMinn
Mar 13
Replying to

Thanks, Mike. It's great to hear from you!

Mark

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