23 January 2015

One Key To Developing Compassion for the Offender


From Danny

How does one go about feeling compassion for someone who just offended, ignored, or betrayed them? The most difficult time to enter into a more loving state of being is in the moment of offense, and for that matter every moment thereafter. And yet, for healing to be fully felt and experienced, compassion must return to the wounded heart, and it is the very source of the peace that is sought.  

But how does one develop that compassion?  

I was reading an article related to stress and anxiety, and in it was a simple quote from Roy Masters about one technique he shares to help people develop compassion and reduce resentment. Roy Masters is a prolific author and radio host that teaches mindfulness meditation exercises currently used by the Army to help soldiers cope. Though the whole quote is worth commenting on, I'd rather just focus on the bolded portion, as it is what inspired this post.
"Imagine, however, that someone said or did something cruel to you, but that you did not react in any way whatsoever – you did not become upset, resentful or even ruffled. You simply observed that this person was saying or doing something cruel, as though you were calmly observing the scene in a movie. You simply would not be stressed by what would appear to others to be a highly stressful encounter. Stress and cruelty affect us as profoundly as they do only because we react to them resentfully.”
Why is it that you can watch something potentially offensive occur in a movie and not explode about it, but if it happens to you in real life, it is a big deal? 

At least one reason is your ego was involved in one situation and not the other. In one case you were just observing something that has no bearing on your identity/ego, in another you believed some part of your worth was actually on the line.  

This simple fact brings an interesting thought. When watching a movie or television series, have you ever been able to have compassion for the “bad character”, because you’d been shown their backstory and the reasons for all their pain? 

I think the TV series Lost did a great job at this (any other Lost fans out there?). The underlying theme of the show was redemption, both individual and collective. Through flashbacks, the show helped you truly understand why it was that each of these individuals acted in dysfunctional ways. As a result, instead of despising the deeply flawed characters, you actually had compassion for them and each of their unique kinds of weaknesses and human frailties. This is because you understood that when they hurt another character you liked, it was often because they themselves had been hurt. Instead of being offended by their actions, you found yourself rooting for them to overcome their challenges -- you wanted them to find the happiness and wholeness they were seeking.  

What if you could do the same thing with the people in your life? You may think you know your spouse, or children, or friends. But there will always be a great deal that you do NOT know about them. The shame that each individual faces in life often causes them to hide the ugliest parts of their lives for fear of not being accepted as they are. Though you might think you know someone, what you know is really just the part that they feel comfortable revealing to the world.  

What if you could treat their weaknesses like you treat those of some flawed character in a movie or TV show you watch? What if you truly knew the root of their pain and the reasons they act out against you or others? What if you knew all their insecurities, fears, shames, guilts? What if you knew their past pain, anguish, etc?  

Do you think that your compassion for them would increase and be more of an automatic response? Would you be able to forgive more easily? Would you root for them, even in their weakness? 

This is what those in your life need you to be able to do! This is the beginning of compassion, and therefore the beginning of healing.

P.S. - See the follow up post here in answer to one of the great comments below on whether or not this kind of behavior means you become to passive and accepting of rude or inappropriate behavior.

22 comments:

  1. This is absolutely beautiful! I've been pondering the idea of 'being offended' recently as well. I've come to think that just like we can choose to be happy, we can choose to be offended. We are often to quick to take something personally, that maybe had nothing to do with us at all. Perhaps being quicker to NOT take on negative feelings and being quicker to react with kindness is the ticket! Love your blog-thanks for another profound post :)

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    1. Very true Anon - and in fact, even if it DID have something to do directly with us, something we did or were perceived to have done, it can be so powerful to decide, to truly choose, not to take on those negative feelings. And when we do that, the healing on both sides can happen so so so much faster.

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  2. My name is Anna and my friend just forwarded your blog to me. Thank you! I seriously loved everything about this; it really touched my heart. I have been working on this very thing for a long time. Growing up in the Church, I always felt like it was "easy" to feel compassion or "forgive" someone as that is 'just what we did.' It wasn't hard for me. But, I guess I really didn't have things that hard and looking back on it, many would say my life was 'easy.' I suppose it was. Well, looking back on it now, I guess the Lord needed me to learn exactly what this meant. About 10 years ago my husband (at the time) had an affair during our marriage which later ended up in him marrying the other woman. We had 4 little girls and my world crumbled. It took me a long time to come to the point of compassion/forgiveness. Maybe those 2 go hand in hand in some way? Finally, one day I decided to pray about it and 'let it go.' It was out of my control. Funny, looking back I realized that even though I felt like I was the one "wronged" and our divorce was "justified," I did not fight for it. In the end, no matter how bad or great a marriage is, divorce comes down to a 2 person decision and I let it go as much as he did. Once I came to this realization and the reality of what forgiveness could do in my life, I became a new person. Maybe the person I should have always been. Now, I am happily married and even though life doesn't look like the way I had always dreamed as a girl, it is beautiful. I have come to a point of forgiveness for both my ex and his wife and it has been the most freeing thing in my life. My girls love going to their dad's and step-mom's and it was excruciating for me at first, but now I am thankful that they have the opportunities to learn from all of us and I have accepted his wife and his continued presence in my life. The Lord really does make all things new. Now that my girls are older, I think they can see that in all of us and how our Heavenly Father has healed everyone and we all love and want the best for them. I cannot wait to go back and read thru your other posts. Thank you for your message! It is very much needed today in a world full of hurt and pain knowing that is not all there is to this life.

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    1. Thank you for this very thoughtful comment, and for sharing a personal experience where you were really forced to dig down and discover those same life lessons.

      A couple of points: 1) For me compassion and forgiveness DO go hand in hand. I suppose it is possible to do it otherwise, but I don't know that full forgiveness, and the freedom that comes from no longer hating/despising/bad-mouthing another human being, can be reached if you haven't learned how to have compassion and understanding of the person that hurt you.

      And talk about freeing....can you imagine how continually crippled your life would be, and that of your children especially, if you had not reached a place of freedom and forgiveness with your spouse? You'd be inflicting your ongoing dysfunction on them, requiring them to also carry it around and hold it for you as you make them take sides.

      Instead, with forgiveness there is a place for actual harmony, mutual respect, and an ending of personal and passed-down dysfunction that poisons people's lives.

      As you read through, my suggestion is start more towards the beginning, there was A LOT that we were trying to get out in those early days, and some of our best posts are there.

      We look forward to continuing to hear from you!

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    2. SUCH AN INCREDIBLE STORY!! I am amazed by this comment. Thank you, thank you, Anna, for putting yourself out there and sharing this. I hope many see this as it's so inspiring.

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    3. Wow, Anna! Thank you for sharing. I too was in a very similar situation and the 'other woman' is still in our life. It took me a long time to forgive both of them, but I really believe it is the only thing that was freeing to me as well. And you know what, it's funny, but looking back on it, my first husband and I were probably not the best match to start with in the first place. We tried to make it work, but it just wasn't going to last long term. Now, we are both happy and our relationships are healthy and loving and I think it has made a world of difference for our kids instead of us staying together. Kinda crazy to think I am saying this now after years of healing, but it is true. I wonder how many other women are out there like us. I hope they have found that healing too. What a great community here and to know we are not alone and miracles do happen!

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  3. A wonderful post. I'm wondering about how pity and compassion overlap. Somehow I find pity to be more judgmental. What do you think? I don't know why it bothers me so much to hear people say, Have pity on so-and-so, or I feel sorry for so-and-so.

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    1. When I think of having pity on someone - it's more like - I've lost faith in them. I don't believe in them. I don't think there is much hope for them right now or for whatever reason, they are not going to make it or are not capable of thriving. I have no more confidence in them. It is certainly not a kind way to view someone! COMPASSION on the other hand seems to recognize someone's inherent worth, no matter what the circumstances. It's looking on someone who is WORTHY of love. Having that kind of recognition of someone's worth, compassion seems to say: I am so sorry for what you are going through, but I believe in you; I have faith in you; this circumstance, no matter how bad - doesn't define you; I know that you can get through this; I know that you can THRIVE and that you are capable of all things! And I want to love you and honor you even if you are struggling with something right now.

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  4. I agree with you. I think many who say "have pity...." mean something similar to compassion, but to me the actual word pity doesn't quite strike the same chord as compassion does. To my mind, Pity seems to feel sorrow for something from above or from a distance, while compassion would be more synonymous with meeting a person where they are.

    At least that's how I see it in my mind.

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    1. Yes-I love your response, Danny. I think it could be a post all in itself. I think pity is pride. It is feeling superior to someone else, rather than feeling empathy/charity/compassion (or as you said, meeting them where they are). Pity is an easier thing to do because it takes no courage, vulnerability or introspection. It reminds me of this Marianne Williamson quote I love: "When I'm in the valley, I'm not helped by those who think I'm pathetic. I'm helped by those who think I can."

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  5. Great thoughts Danny. I had never translated this idea of sympathizing with a "bad" character in a movie/TV show before to how we can try to better relate to those around us. So much to think about....

    Also if I may add my two cents to pity. Pity, empathy, sympathy can be hard to define since they all seem to connect and overlap in certain places. But I actually wrote a post about this from the perspective of people sometimes "feeling sorry" for my daughter. To me it seems like empathy and sympathy come as you listen to someone else, hear where they are coming from and try to 'mourn with those who mourn.' Pity doesn't listen or try to understand, but rather comes from a place of judgement, making assumptions about ones life that in reality reflect their own fears and biases. A little girl once told our oldest that she 'feels sorry' for her little sister missing her hand. Later that evening my daughter said, "Mom I know what to say when people say they feel bad for me. I can just say you don't have to feel bad for me! My arms are different! I'm not sad." Yes sometimes she does feel sad about her lack of hands, but overall she doesn't want people judging her life and circumstances and making assumptions based on those judgements. So yeah pity stems from judgement... just my two cents.

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    1. Wow, beautifully put. Out of the mouth of babes....

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  6. I love this. I have missed your (plural) thoughtful posts.

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  7. Mara, Danny! Yes, please, one day it would be lovely to read a post on how pity, sympathy, empathy, compassion are and aren't similar. I've been thinking a lot about compassion, or the word that brings us from connecting with the experiences of another to some form of helpful action. How to cross that bridge, to what the other person needs more than what I think the other person needs.

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  8. I really love this. I have a very similar story to anna, i was pregnant with our third child when i found out my husband was having and had had multiple affairs. He married and divorced the woman whom he was seeing while we were married and she and i have actually become good friends and that has been incredibly healing for me and for her as well. I think i would have missed out on numerous blessings and healing had i continued to be angry towards her. It is still hard at times but not giving in to anger and trying to be kind when i feel so hurt has increased my compassion and I'm thankful for that. I had a bishop always say if you were that person and grew up in their circumstances you would have made the exact same choices, you have to love people in the space they're in. I really love that!

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    1. Wow!! SO incredibly inspiring!! Thank you so much for sharing. I'm just in awe of the power of love and forgiveness. I think it helps people do things that seem imaginable. So incredible. Lots of love and gratitude to you. -M

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  9. I've been hearing this message (in the picture at the top of this post) a lot and I have an honest question I've never heard discussed. If we don't call people out on bad, rude, unkind behavior, then I feel like we have no standards left at all. Sure, everyone is fighting a battle of some sort, but if there is no expectation from others - from their community or society as a whole - why would they make any effort at all to over come those struggles?

    I live in a society where politeness if valued above all else, almost. Not that that doesn't have it's own down side, but it is a huge contrast to America (where I'm from) where people are often shockingly rude. And aggressive. And just really unpleasant and often offensive. Small things can certainly be over looked and you can decide not to be offended by someone's personal comment and that would be positive. But with everyone banging on about "not judging" and choosing to let a rude person just carry on his/her merry, rude way, I just wonder what happens to any sort of standard of public behavior. And with us all supposed to be accepting and giving these rude or offensive people the benefit of the doubt and not letting them know, hey, you're rude and that's not cool, no wonder things are often quite uncivil back home.

    I'm probably not articulating this terribly well. When we have zero expectations of people's behavior (and are supposed to imagine they are having a difficult time in order to excuse any bad behavior whether they actually are or not) a lot of people will meet that lack of expectations and never be given to understand that the way they carry on is highly unpleasant and anti social. I get dialing back how everyone is super offended a lot of the time, but I still feel like we shouldn't have to make believe excuses for rude people and we aren't doing them any favors by letting them go on being that way. Being part of a community and society involves learning the norms and expectations of that society and trying at least a bit to meet those. Everyone just acting as they please, even badly, and having everyone else just say, "Oh, they are fighting a battle [that I don't know about and, to be honest, I don't even know if they ARE fighting a battle, but that's what everyone says to do these days] so, whatever way they want to act is okay.

    It just seems counter intuitive for millions of people from a lot of backgrounds all trying to get on together.

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  10. I try to practice compassion every day. I work on cases with clients who are low-income, mentally ill, children, or the elderly. Compassion is absolutely necessary - I feel I cannot understand their case unless I attempt to at least imagine what their lives are like. While I may not be able to resolve their case as they want it resolved, I can at least be compassionate in the process. A lot of marginalized people are treated badly, and I do not want to perpetuate that problem and make them feel even worse.

    What I have difficulty doing is exercising compassion when children are harmed by someone. My case in point is my son's most recent teacher. He was a narcissist and a bully and should not be teaching. I am certain that something terrible either happened to him when he was young, or that he has something happening right now in his personal life. But, feeling compassion for him would not have changed the fact that he traumatized my child (a 7 year old boy) to the point where he had nightmares and did not want to go to school. My only solution, after numerous efforts to communicate with him and the principal, was to report him to the district and have my son removed from his classroom.

    I think compassion is something we should exercise every day, but it should not blind us to the fact that some people cannot be changed or prevent us from protecting those who are vulnerable to abuse.

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  11. A thoughtful night for me. I've been reading this blog, feeling like I am the one you are speaking to. I am the one who needs to find the compassion for the monster in my life. I am the one who needs to learn love and to let go. But I find myself wondering if I am wrong, if I am the one who is actually the 'monster' (realizing of course as I say this that monster is so wrong a word as 'everyone is fighting a hard battle'). So... I guess the same principles and ideas stand-- I need to learn love, let go, etc. But coming at it from the otherside, feeling that perhaps I am the one causing all the pain and trouble... a little thought provoking. And jarring.

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    1. Anon- I really appreciate this post. For what it's worth, I know what that feels like. I remember quite clearly those first few weeks and months after my first wife told me she'd had an affair. I guess in the minds of some, that would make her the "monster". But of course, as you explained, it really isn't that easy.

      Of course that action was wrong. But it also created the catalyst for the "jarring" thoughts you mentioned above. It was the catalyst for realizing just how much pain she must have been experiencing in her own life. She was/is a good person, I knew she really cared for me, and I know it was likely never in her mind to hurt me like that. So what made this very kind, good natured person resort to something so destructive?

      Well, just as it wouldn't be fair at all to call her a "monster", it wouldn't be fair to call me one either. I also tried to be a kind and supportive and understanding person, just like she did. I also cared for her and wanted her to be happy. And yet, upon reflection in those difficult months leading up to and especially following that confession...I became very aware of subtle things I was doing to contribute to her pain and trouble, instead of alleviate it. Those subtle forms of wrong I was guilty of may not have been the "cause" of her decision, but they certainly didn't help it either.

      It is a humbling thing, to realize the role you play in the dysfunction. I applaud you for seeing that, sensing that, allowing your heart to soften even for a moment towards them, to consider your contribution. It was painful for me when I did the same, but it also was what led me to important changes (changes which are still and probably always will be underway).

      Anyway, I certainly don't know your situation. But I may not have to. The fact is, almost without exception, we all play our part in the dysfunctional or troubled relationships (or sometimes just moments) in our lives. And since there often isn't anything you can do to make the other person change, I suppose it doesn't hurt to actually welcome those jarring thoughts as an opportunity to work on the only person you can change....YOU.

      Hope this comment comes across in the right spirit. Good luck, and thanks again for expressing well that sentiment that I know all too well. You aren't alone.

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