‘Compassion is to see beyond your own pain to see the pain of others.’- Yasmin Mogahed, scholar.
Life is incredibly special, but it’s also hard. It’s great fun at times, but other times it seems to break you apart from within. That is why I firmly believe in the power of empathy and compassion.
Hardships are part of all our lives and they shape us. They shape our thinking, our behaviour and our words. Yours and mine. They influence my behaviour when I encounter strangers, when I make a new friend or embark on a new relationship. They influence my writing. They also cause anxiety, depression or even physical issues. Perhaps you can relate to this.
But talking about the reasons behind those emotions, behaviours and physical symptoms is not easy. Perhaps we are not even aware of their origin. The same goes for other people. Chances are their behaviour also originates from past experiences we know absolutely nothing about.
Realising how experiences shape us and others can help understand ourselves and others better.
Why am I being grumpy? Because it’s day five of a seemingly never-ending migraine. Why do I never invite any friends over? Because past experiences have taught me that I will not be able to hold on to my promise of making it because of my physical health. Why do I retreat when I become friends with someone? Because of other past experiences.
It also works the other way around: why would that stranger not say hi to me on the street? Perhaps because they are shy and socially anxious. Why is my friend being curt to me? Perhaps because they had a really bad day for a personal reason. Why are they always so defensive? Perhaps because of something that happened in their past.
Reminding yourself that someone’s behaviour is likely everything to do with their own life experiences instead of us can help us be less anxious ourselves but also be less judgemental towards others. Because often we do not truly know why someone is behaving the way they are.
Showing compassion and empathising with another human, from friend to foe, can lead to true insight in someone else’s story. Not only will you benefit from understanding another better, but it will also help them feel understood.
And isn’t that what in the end we all crave? Sincere human connection?
Trying to stand in another’s shoes can help us all evolve into a better, more understanding humanity.