My friend told me that you say commiseration is bad. How is respecting someone’s experience bad? I think you might be an idiot.
Thank you for your question. I’ll leave whether I’m an idiot or not to others but I would be more than happy to clarify my feelings about commiseration.
I’ll begin by saying that I agree with you that respecting someone’s experience is a very important thing to do. But we can do that by honouring their pure presence, as opposed to getting too caught up in the details that have snagged their personal thinking. So when someone first needs to just exhale the impact of the experience, I’m all for taking however long is required to listen to whatever anger or frustration or sadness they need to move through as a part of that life experience. But once I’ve sensed that we’re through that phase, and that I’m now actually feeling a sensation of being irritated by their anger, grief, worry, whatever—then that’s my sign to trust myself and respect my own experience. If I don’t want to talk about those issues anymore then I shouldn’t. Otherwise the time with them is false and posed and little more than a cultural obligation.
Commiseration is essentially a churning of time. Something happened and now two or more people are recreating the event for each other and they pass it back and forth in their Nows. Again, if the person’s feelings are an exhale of the impact that’s fine, but if it’s just a pointless re-living of things then that’s not doing anyone any good. If someone needs to scream because they burned themselves then that makes sense. But you don’t heal their hand by putting it back in the fire after the fact.
I think where we agree dear letter-writer is that we see value in the connection people share when they express compassion. This is the love that binds the universe together and to be aware of it is to live in a state of bliss. We want to encourage those connections, that sharing, that unity. But that state of mind is pre-ego, it’s pre-word, it’s pre-definition. So we can’t talk about it. So if we’re talking we’re usually in a state of ego.
I’ve written about him at least once before, but there’s a kid in Chicago I think, that won a contest for compassion. His elderly neighbour had died, and the kid’s mom saw her son sitting on the lap of the widower, and they were both crying. She worried what the boy had done, but when he returned and she asked him what he said to the old man to make him cry, the boy said, “I didn’t say anything. I just helped him cry.” That kind of commiseration I’m all for.
So if we’re looking for the best possible response, let’s not talk so much about what happened, let us instead be together now in whatever form or shape that naturally takes. It’ll be more fun for all parties involved and it’ll also generate more productive, positive results.
I hope this helps clear up what I suspect was a semantic difference. Enjoy your day.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.