We have ideas of ourselves. And we can look at our lives and find examples of us being that person. But how often are we that person? For instance, how far does our compassion extend? We can say we’re compassionate because we care about the plight of young girls in Afghanistan or Nigeria, but are we compassionate in our own daily lives?
This is never fun to confront, but our egos live by opinion. So you have an idea of who everyone you know is. You have a thought-based framework around which you interpret everything they do. So if you think someone’s snobby but they’re really shy, you’ll see all of their shy behaviour as snobby behaviour. That’s how the brain works. It fills in gaps it can’t see. And in an egos life the gaps are much bigger than the glimpses of any greater truth.
If you don’t like people it’s usually because you don’t like their solution. People’s actions are solutions aimed at the problems they perceive. So if you’re hungry you walk to the kitchen, open the fridge and get an apple. Problem solved. If you’re really hurt by something and you just don’t know how to react, you’ll copy whichever parent you witnessed do that same thing—and you won’t even notice you did it. Maybe that’s getting angry, maybe that’s getting sad or maybe that’s getting drunk. But you won’t recognize it as pattern-matching a caregiver. You’ll just be solving your problem.
These solutions extend much deeper as well. You can look at a girl’s clothes and behaviour at a party and see a slut, whereas you could incorporate more compassion so that if you told yourself any story about her it would be a charitable one. You could use her as a meditation—a study on separate realities and what it’s like to see the world from other perspectives. You could see her as a slut or you you could see her behaviour as being directed at solving her problem, which might simply be that she’s insecure and like many of us needs the approval of others.
If it were me and I was in a judgmental state of mind and felt myself doing that, the story editor in me would think backwards to what her problem might be. Why would that be her strategy? And in looking at her more closely and in listening to her talk maybe I would notice her large breasts and her innocent manner. I could imagine a young girl with a heavily overworked but dedicated single mother. Life with a kid is busy and tough and so guys don’t stay. But this little girl might have longed for a male role model as most kids do. And if she developed at a young age she would have realized that her physique could hold men’s attention. So long before she would have had any sexual feelings of her own she’s already mimicking sexualized behaviour simply as a way of getting that time with male role models. So should she be judged and disliked because as a kid that was the approach that actually worked to some degree?
In another example of trading judgment for compassion—you might look at a slow-moving grey-haired bagger at the grocery store and think to yourself that he should quit if that’s as fast as he can go. And I might think, gee, most people that age have wanted to retire and yet this guy’s still working—he must have to. It must be his solution. Plus people his age have arthritis and yet he’s picking up stuff with his hands all day. No wonder he rubs them between customers. So I feel connected to the guy through compassion whereas egocentric thoughts build a wall between the other person and ourselves and this hurts us as much as them.
We have to become more generous. If we want more love we have to give more. You’ve got to get serious about this. You can’t just read this blog and post some quotes and that’s it. Enlightenment is a verb. It’s an action. And it takes you being far more conscious than just taking your own narrow interests into account.
Start thinking less about yourself and more about others. And do so from the perspective of compassion. Where you really meditate on the challenges of being a single mom, or all the challenges that would go into a special needs child, or a job that had you travelling every second week, or how difficult it would be to be morbidly obese or have a beloved spouse who was gravely ill. Noticing these realities will allow us to more easily see our own good fortune. And in seeing that we are immediately made grateful and grateful people are generous and kind.
Be grateful. Get out of your head and out of a constant alignment with only your own goals and aims and desires and start getting behind other people’s. You’ll be surprised at how much easier it is to have a good day if you seriously take action to invest in the objectives of others. Maybe that’s just letting them into traffic. Or maybe it’s something bigger. But no matter how big or small it is, both parties benefit from compassionate generosity so practice it with wild abandon. Because in the end any giving you do is like giving to yourself.
Check out this video of people reacting differently to kindness and compassion and see how lost many of the “successful” people in our culture really are:
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.