Last week an 18 year old boy traveling with his parents in Ecuador went missing while he and his family had gone hiking. The boy had walked a bit ahead of his parents, and a little bit later they couldn't find him. They returned to the hotel but their son did not. To this day he is still missing.
I was watching this news story with a friend who quipped that they should have known better and made better decisions/choices. I want to make it clear that my friend isn't a mean-spirited person. He is actually quite caring and compassionate. However, just like any one of us might, he made a quick judgment. After all, we are human and imperfect.
I asked him if he could take on the perspective of these parents who were missing their child and had no idea where he could be. He immediately agreed and was able to connect with his compassion for these distraught parents. I asked him to sit with the pain of what it might be like if one of his nephews or nieces had gone missing. It's easy to forget about the suffering of others. After all, compassion literally means to suffer with.
Our discussion moved on to wondering if we could have compassion for child traffickers, pedophiles, and murderers. How hard must it be for someone who is sexually attracted to children? This may be a very difficult thing to imagine, especially if our judgments about their behavior (yes, it's never o.k.) prevent us from considering their pain. That is exactly what having compassion is about. It isn't about liking or agreeing with, or being permissive of immoral behavior. It is about accepting others' suffering and understanding and taking on their perspectives. So can you feel and understand the pain of others without agreeing with their choices?
I believe this is quite pertinent with the recent developments in politics in the past week. I am referring to the abortion bill battle in the Texas Senate and the Supreme Court decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and Prop 8 in California. No matter which side you are on related to these issues, can you have compassion for the other side and still disagree with them?
Look inside your heart and see if you can relate to someone else's experience of suffering especially when you disagree with them. While you are at it, don't forget to have compassion for yourself, especially when you find this to be a very difficult thing to do!
Written by Monti Pal, LPC-Intern
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