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Posts Tagged ‘compassion’

I have not had an easy life.

I lived through significant trauma in my adolescence. I had to deal with some serious shit. When I tell people the highlights of that part of my history, they don’t know what to say. It’s okay. I don’t know what to say either. I tend to downplay it, because sometimes it seems like the only redemptive part of the story is that I survived basically intact to tell it.

That kind of prolonged trauma reverberates through the years. I have made unfortunate choices based on the dysfunction I learned as a teenager. I have health problems now because of the stress of the past. My brain developed differently than it might otherwise have done, leaving me, for example, with the tendency of being hypervigilant. I have trouble convincing myself being hypervigilant isn’t a useful and basically good thing (it isn’t, it really isn’t, but it still seems so very practical).

I have had to teach myself what having a safe and happy and functional life looks like. And I have had to draw some hard lines I never wanted to draw and make some difficult choices I never wanted to make.

I am also incredibly fucking privileged.

I am a white, heterosexual, attractive, thin, intelligent woman. I was raised middle class in California in one of the richest counties in one of the richest countries in the world. I received a college education without accruing huge amounts of debt. I know how to speak, how to dress, how to behave in order to receive better treatment.

People are not randomly afraid of me. People are more likely to give me the benefit of the doubt. People are more likely to assume positive things about me. People are more likely to return my smiles. People are more likely to give me opportunities. People are more likely to assume I’m competent and that my work will be good. People are more likely to offer me assistance. I have access to better medical care, to better dental care, to resources that mean I have a lot more choices and control of my life.

I am oozing in privilege.

I have had a hard life.

These two statements are not incompatible.

What I see so often in conversations about privilege is this insistence on “I.” We all want empathy. We all want to be heard and recognized. We all want acknowledgment of our suffering. And, you know, Buddha said life is suffering, and there’s more than enough of it to go around.

This desire for empathy is normal. It is supremely human. And we all deserve it.

Photo Credit: Herr Olsen via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Herr Olsen via Compfight cc

But. It is possible to receive empathy and give empathy to ourselves while also recognizing our privilege. It is possible to gently remind ourselves that actually, not everything is about us and our particular concerns. That our pain and our problems do not always need to get time in the spotlight, that sometimes other people’s problems and pain needs the exposure, the airtime, the discussion, the push for change, more. That injustice, oppression, lack of privilege, these are systemic issues that are woven into the very fabric of our society, and changing these things, it is a long slow painful process that necessarily shifts the focus from individual problems to societal problems. That even if we have valid points, if part of the purpose or result of those valid points is to shift the focus back to us, that is not always a net win.

I have had a hard life.

I am extremely privileged.

These statements are both true.

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I want to write about acceptance, but it’s tricky. I don’t know if I have any insight to offer. Maybe you have insight to offer me.

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There are some open questions about the stages of grief: how valid it is as a model, whether there are five stages or seven stages. But the stages, along with some religious thought, emphasize the culmination of grief and healing from grief as acceptance.

What is acceptance? At first glance, it seems to be agreeing with basic reality: This person is now gone. This person isn’t in my life anymore. This terrible thing did actually happen. (And of course, this can be true in situations that have nothing to do with death and still everything to do with grief.)

Or maybe acceptance can be thought of as letting go. Letting go of what used to be, or what you wanted to be, or what you thought was except it really wasn’t ever. Letting go of controlling what you cannot control.

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But I think acceptance encompasses something more than this.

Acceptance is also about understanding the reality of how life has changed because of what happened. Not just, this person died, but how is my life now different because of this death? Not just, this relationship ended, but what does mean for me to be single? Not just, my body doesn’t work the way it used to, but how do I have to live my life differently now that I don’t have certain physical capacities?

Acceptance involves integrating these changes, which can sometimes feel like consequences, into your life and into your concept of who you are.

Who am I now that I can no longer walk? Who am I now that I am no longer a spouse/sibling/parent/friend to this person? Who am I now that I have survived this terrible ordeal?

Who am I?

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Acceptance, I am beginning to believe, requires a generous amount of compassion for the self. Because as you sort out who you are in this new landscape, you are bound to find wounds and doubts and weaknesses and regrets. You probably won’t like everything you see.

But until you can love this new self, including any perceived drawbacks, including the tender and misshapen bits, I wonder if the process of acceptance can be completed.

I suspect it can’t.

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So then. When you are grieving, know this. It might be hard to remember, even impossible in this moment, but. You are still a beautiful and worthwhile individual.

You still shine with the light of a thousand stars.

Photo Credit: Skiwalker79 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Skiwalker79 via Compfight cc

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I am not in a good mood right now.

I have spent the last few weeks dealing with my landlord and his real estate agent, both of whom act like they’re doing me huge favors by, say, not illegally breaking my lease or being willing to pay for professional cleaners to clean their property before their open house event. No acknowledgment is being made of the fact that I am the person in this situation who is hemorrhaging money and time and stress from the inconvenience.

Where is our compassion?

I am supposed to be appalled at how non-inclusive the science fiction community is becoming because of the recent hoop-la about this year’s Hugo host. Did things get out of hand? Yes. And ultimately both sides of this drama suffered. How terrible it must be to have to worry about having your win of a major writing award punctuated with a joke about your weight or gender. Can we stop for a moment and imagine what that would feel like? (Kameron Hurley has more to say about this, and it’s worth reading.) And how unfortunate that the con committee didn’t prepare Jonathan Ross for the current climate of SF&F and take more care in making and presenting their choice. Meanwhile, how ironic that this is being held up as an example of science fiction not being inclusive, when the circumstances from which this situation arose exist because of a backlash against science fiction not being inclusive.

Where is our compassion?

I recently had a conversation with a female writer, who also happens to be a mother, about how she was told that since she is a mother, she will never be as good a writer as either someone with no kids OR a man who is a father. How painful a comment that is, to tell a serious writer, “Nope, sorry, since you have reproduced, you’ll never live up to the rest of us. Oh, and by the way, if you were a man, this wouldn’t apply.” Painful, unnecessary, and untrue.

Where is our compassion?

Photo Credit: jorgempf via Compfight cc

Now that I try to be very mindful about setting boundaries and standing up for myself (go, Backbone Project, go), I notice it all the time, this lack of compassion. Some of it is simple thoughtlessness, and some of it is deeper and more troubling. Some of it is people who honestly feel if they can get away with taking advantage of somebody, then they should do it. I have been told there are entire cultures based on this principle.

There are two obvious choices when confronted by this problem:

Choice 1: Shut up, sit down, pretend everything is fine, blame everything on yourself, learn to believe your emotions aren’t valid or important, become used to being treated like there’s something wrong with you for having perfectly normal emotional responses to being treated badly, take what is given and be thankful for even that much, lose your voice if you ever had one to begin with, or else never learn to speak in the first place, let people trod all over you as you sink deeper and deeper into the muck and learn to value yourself as little as you’re being valued. In short, be a victim.

Choice 2: Stand up and demand respect. Value yourself. Protect yourself. Set boundaries and don’t allow yourself to be talked or shamed out of them. Be compassionate, but do not allow your compassion to be used against you. Trust people, but only when the trust is deserved. Love people, but do not try to save them because they’ll be perfectly happy to pull you down with them. Give yourself the compassion other people may not be willing or able to give you.

With the landlord situation, I picked Choice 2, and I am now going to be compensated for my time and inconvenience. This would never have been the result if I hadn’t spoken up. Loudly. More than once. And I’m prepared to do it again.

Where is our compassion?

It starts with ourselves.

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My husband was telling me about a friend of his who is a good listener. “But I think she’s the one who needs emotional support right now,” he told me.

So we are going to be revisiting a topic I’ve talked about before, problem comparing, because obviously one time was not enough.

Just because your friend has problems does not mean you can’t talk about your own problems. Even if your friend has really big problems. Keep the following in mind:

1. Your friend may have more times during which they can’t listen to you. If they’re fully in crisis mode, right in the middle of dealing with their problem, whether it be physical, mental, or emotional, they probably can’t be there for you right this minute. However, unless there’s a problem with codependence in your friendship (and if there is, that’s a whole separate issue), they will tell you if now isn’t a good time. And if it’s not a good time, that doesn’t mean there won’t be a better time in the future.

2. Your friend may not be able to track you as well. Meaning, they may not have the bandwidth to check up on you, make sure you’re doing okay, send you texts and invitations, and come to you to see if you need anything. That doesn’t mean that if you go to them, they won’t be able to listen.

3. Your friend might find it a welcome break to hear about someone else’s problems for a change. Distraction can be very helpful in certain circumstances. They might also feel better knowing they’ve been able to be supportive to a good friend.


The other aspect of this issue I’ve noticed lately is how invalidated some people feel when their problem isn’t the one getting the full spotlight. It’s as if there’s some kind of suffering quota that they’re afraid is going to be filled up before it’s their turn.

Let me help you out. Everyone suffers. Every single person. And everyone deserves compassion for the suffering they face. It doesn’t matter if your suffering is different than mine, or worse than mine, or not as bad as mine. You still deserve compassion because suffering is hard for everyone.

But when we use our own personal suffering as an excuse to shut down conversations about institutionalized suffering, we are becoming so caught up in our own heads that we are not showing compassion to others. I see this kind of thought process again and again in conversations about race, gender, class, and sexual orientation. Just because we are talking about these issues, just because there is lots of statistical evidence that institutionalized injustice exists, does not mean your own personal suffering does not also exist. But not every conversation has to be about you. Sometimes we need to talk about suffering that affects wide swathes of people, even though you are not one of those people.

Don’t worry. The suffering quota won’t be filled up any time soon.

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