Compassion ain’t easy
The current situation we are all experiencing is highly unusual. Usually, when trauma occurs it is localized – mudslides in California, hurricanes in Florida, earthquakes in Mexico, tsunamis in Indonesia, etc. This time, we are all sharing some elements of the same global trauma.
As a friend pointed out recently, the metaphor of “all being in the same boat” is utterly incorrect. We are all in the same storm, but each of us has our own way of navigating that storm. Some people are riding it out in luxury cabin cruisers, others in leaky rowboats, others are swimming for their lives. What it all comes down to is that everyone has some level of stress.
Just like the ways in which people are riding out this crisis, each of us has different ways of dealing with our stress. For some, it becomes depression. For others, they shove it all down and try to pretend everything is fine. It’s totally individual, but one thing that seems to be playing out in my life is that everyone has a moment – here and there – where they snap.
Snapping is also highly individual. I have one friend who, when they snap, they start to engage in what people are now calling “doomscrolling.” This leads them deeper and deeper into the pit. Another friend seems to manifest that moment of losing it by posting epic diatribes online. Still another handles it by totally disconnecting and disappearing for a day or more. One popular manifestation of this energy, at least among people I know, is the tendency to become unbelievably over-reactive to every little thing and to take everything personally.
For me, snapping results in me losing all internal editors and having my normal quota of “little patience” reduced to “no patience.” Wow, this is hard for me now. I try to remain empathic and compassionate, but that final thing mentioned in the prior paragraph – that has now become my greatest burden.
I have to understand that for some people, the way they can battle the feeling of helplessness is to fixate on something they think they can control. This often leads to tremendous overreaction. For instance, today I participated in an online meeting for a specific group of people who have been working together recently on some stressful projects. We decided to invite some close colleagues who have been involved with the projects recently. One of them posted something about it, and suddenly there was a firestorm of people being all upset that somehow they had been “intentionally left out” as though we had created a list and said, “Let’s leave out these people.”
Honestly, this is such a minor minor minor issue. But for some people it became something that appeared to be tragic and life-altering. My first response was to reach out and say, “WTF? Are you on crack?” I was truly angry and frustrated at the utter lack of perspective.
After some deep breaths, I realized that these were people in pain who felt somehow left out. That wasn’t the case, but it was their perception so for them it was true. Boy, feeling compassion and empathy for this was hard for me. I truly wanted to just log off of social media forever and tell them all to just go hang.
I am still processing – which tells me that I am overreacting myself. I am as brittle and frustrated as anyone else. So for me, I am working hard to regain my sense of empathy and compassion for people, even when I think they are being utterly insane and overreacting to something.
But I have to say, sometimes compassion ain’t easy.
It’s only Quarantine if it comes from the Quarante province of France. Otherwise, it’s just Sparkling Isolation.