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The Shock Value of Compassion

I don’t know who said this, but I do know it is true!

I’ll just go ahead and say it – there is a stunning, literally jaw-dropping, lack of compassion in much of today’s mainstream culture.

I first became aware of this while watching a blissful documentary called “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” The posthumous star of this perfect film, Mister Rogers, was my daily mentor growing up. Even as a young child, I never felt like his show was a “children’s show,” like I felt while watching shows like Sesame Street or Scooby Doo.

I always felt like it was just a show – a show where a few of the people were tall and the rest were all quite short. In other words, we weren’t “kids” and “adults” in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood. We were just people, talking together, living together, learning to love and be kind together. He was so kind! He “got” us. He listened and took whatever we said seriously. He would talk to us about the things no one else wanted to talk about.

A couple of days after watching this movie, a dear friend messaged me. She is in the process of purchasing a house. If you have ever purchased a house, or ever witnessed someone you care about purchasing a house, or ever even watched a television show about purchasing houses, you know it is (all together now) STRESSFUL. Oh boy can home buying be stressful! The sheer volume of forms alone can be stressful.

And this heart-friend of mine has had plenty of support from her family in the actual brass tacks of buying the home, coordinating a move between cities and completing all the requisite myriad of forms for this, that and everything else.

Where she hasn’t found so much support is in the area of sheer mental and emotional overload.

When her family asks her how the whole process is coming along, she told me, she has been answering honestly. It has been hard! Stressful! Scary! This is her first time purchasing a home by herself, for herself. Everything is new and the learning curve feels like free-hand climbing up the walls of the Grand Canyon.

Yet her admission of anxiety, doubt, struggle, has been met with, well, apathy at best and judgment at worst. Her relatives have been full of great advice like, “People do this all the time.” “Buck up and deal.” “You know, some people have to buy a home while taking care of kids AND working a full time job and they do just fine.”

They sure do. But what no one is saying, what those around my friend perhaps don’t even truly acknowledge to themselves, is that they do it with fear and trembling. They do it with anxiety and panic attacks. They do it while dreaming of skipping the country and sneaking off to some place where they can live on five dollars a day and no one will ever be able to find them to ask them to sign one more form for the mortgage company. They do it while thinking to themselves (and sometimes out loud) “What the F*** was I thinking?!”

Home buying is scary for everyone. It is stressful for everyone. Anyone who has ever bought a home, whether they had kids or didn’t have kids, were working a full-time job or weren’t working at all, were healthy or sick, had a parent who was healthy or sick, has had to battle with themselves and (it can seem like) the whole world just to do the deal, so to speak.

Then there is the whole moving in process, the get-to-know-the-neighborhood process, the meet-your-neighbors process, the major appliances meet and greet, the confusion when the fire alarm starts beeping above your head at 3am and you realize there is no place to change the battery because the darned thing is wired into your home security system which has decided to treat a little beeping fire alarm like a defcon 5 nuclear threat….

We could all use a little more compassion in this world. We could all use someone who drops all pretense, remembers back to when they first bought a house and how scary it was, and just says, “Yes. It is so scary isn’t it! There are so many problems, aren’t there! I felt the same exact way when I bought my first house! You are doing great – don’t give up!”

There is some serious shock value in statements like these.

I say this because I don’t think – I truly do not think – we expect compassion and empathy from each other or ourselves today. We expect judgment. We expect to be told to cultivate our stiff upper lip. We expect to, at the very least, encounter a fair bit of silence, during which time we are invited to apologize for complaining, seeing the glass-half-empty and sharing it, venting about our first world problems, etc, etc.

We don’t expect to hear the other person tell us they hear us, they get it, they are happy to listen if we need to talk more, they felt the same way, they understand.

We don’t expect a warm hug, a cup of tea (with a splash of something stronger in it), a reminder that we’ve got this and we are killing it, taking on such a brave new adventure the way we are doing.

When I was camping a few months ago in West Texas, there was this little church near the state park we were staying at. They had one of those little old-fashioned signs out front with the movable letters. Each day as we passed by on our way to and from the park, I would read these words:

In a world where you can be anything, choose to be kind.

So from where I stand right now, it seems that, to have real shock value in this world, to really rise above the pack, to truly see and be seen, to make a difference that matters, what we need to offer to ourselves and others is compassion.

P.S. I also think that is why, against a backdrop of arguably far more ‘colorful’ celebrities, one of the most famous and beloved beings in the world is an 83-year-old man wearing simple red robes, the Dalai Lama. And it just doesn’t feel like a coincidence that one of this simple, prayerful, loving, cheerful man’s most famous quotes is “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

Today’s Takeaway: Have you ever had one of those experiences where you have just (over)shared with someone about how life is REALLY going for you right now, and you are poised on the brink of apologizing for telling the truth, and the other person reaches out to hug you, or tells you they would feel the same exact way standing in your shoes, or simply tells you that they think you are brave and they love you just the way you are? It can be like having a bucket of ice water poured over your head, right? And to your heart it feels like being handed a warm blanket and a tasty Irish Coffee and a love note. In a world where the absence of compassion is notable, the only thing more so is when compassion shows up right when you expect it least and need it the most! 

The Shock Value of Compassion

Shannon Cutts


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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2018). The Shock Value of Compassion. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 10, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mentoring-recovery/2018/11/the-shock-value-of-compassion/

 

Last updated: 11 Nov 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 11 Nov 2018
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.