Thursday, August 27, 2009

Compassion: Not as Easy as It Looks

Compassion is what you'll frequently hear from a baby loss mama when she describes the gift or lesson she received from her child or as an outgrowth of her grief. The practice of compassion is more likely to increase after tragedy or traumatic life events.

It's not as easy as it looks, though. And a recent unfortunate blog post by a mother who by all accounts is a compassionate loving mother to her children, her family, her friends and her blog readers, seemed to illustrate this thought. She chose to use some words that unfortunately hurt a community of women, she didn't intend to hurt. She apologized, but for me it seemed to illuminate something bigger.

Compassion: Not as Easy as it Looks

Because, from her comments it seems that she intended to hurt someone. She intended to hurt those who she perceived had judged and hurt her by their comments. There's plenty of evidence that others have been quite hateful toward her role as a mother, though perhaps not to her personally.

Being compassionate is more readily possible when the compassion is given to those who readily receive it and with whom we have a relationship or perceived connection. It's no great surprise to anyone that we are typically less compassionate to those we don't connect with, or lay outside of our social, religious, ethnic, or economic class.

Plenty of comments were left for the blogger, some genuinely trying to help her see that she had hurt the IF and loss community and some who aimed to explain why her words were hurtful. And yes, there was plenty of plain meanness posted, and several so ugly it was unfathomable to me. The blogger fended them off as best she could and seemed to respond in kind; if poster was reasonable so was she, if sarcasm was reeking, she added a stench of her own.

An e-conversation erupted on another site to discuss the post and the comments. Those posts were full of injured and angry words (mine included) and the site provided a safer place to express the hurt--a place where no matter what we said, we knew it would be received.

Compassion: Not as Easy as It Looks

As I read the posts (after posting mine) from beginning to end, I could see the struggle of many to be compassionate to the blogger who had injured the community. Some tried on the perspective of the blogger, and a few angry injured posters removed their words. The blogger apologized twice, and a brief discussion ensued as to the veracity of her apologies. One commenter stated, that the blogger did not want to understand, but wanted to be right.

The desire to be right, I'm convinced, is an obstacle to being compassionate. If your goal is to be gain agreement, sway others to a point of view, then you aren't in a position to listen, learn, and love. And when we're in this mode of teaching others what's right, we aren't particularly receptive to be admonished for words or behaviors that aren't caring. Sometimes, I think we know our behavior isn't compassionate and it's easier to shrug off any criticism, but when we aren't aware (as I believe said blogger was unaware) and taken by surprise that we have acted poorly we find that compassion is not as easy as it looks.

We try defensiveness, trading barbs for barbs, and eventually we may apologize. But will we choose compassion next time or will we merely pull our circle closer around ourselves to prevent another lecture or gentle chide? Could we agree to disagree? Could we learn to use, "for me" or struggle with disclaimers, rather than make proclamations? Will we be willing to accept admonishment and aim as Maya Angelo states, "When we know better, we do better."

Our unfortunate blogger's last statement was that she felt "beat to hell." I read each of her comments and responses and it's clear to me, she's working hard to be compassionate. I thought she didn't know how, but truth is we don't know how until we know better. I'm convinced that to practice compassion we need to hear from those we may have injured (and that frankly sucks); and to be part of that practice, we also need to make our injuries known. I learned a great deal tonight with this e-life event. I wish we had all been kinder (acknowledging that so many were kind) and hope we are able on this arduous journey to practice compassion, 'cause it's hard work.

Compassion: Not as Easy as It Looks

Peace, Kim.
Peace, baby loss and IF community.


  1. Compassion is hard work. I find it easy to show compassion for those walking the road of grief and sorrow, but difficult to find compassion in my heart for those people that apparently (my perseption) have it easy. I also find that as the cruel ticking of time continues the gift of compassion that was given to me by Liam is not as strong as it was early on.

    Thank you for this post and reminding us all to open our hearts to compassion and to practice compassion each day.

  2. Very important post. "The desire to be right, I'm convinced, is an obstacle to being compassionate." YES! I saw this too when I was reading it. What I think you nailed was that she wasn't trying to hurt the ALI community, but she was trying to hurt someone. Unfortunately, when you set off a bomb, you hit everyone in the vicinity, not just the person you intended.

    But yes, compassion is easy with people who are kind, but who really needed the compassion were the people who hurt her feelings to begin with. Taking a breath and seeing their pain might have prevented the entire episode.

    Thank you for this post. VERY important piece.

  3. This post was gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. And I will Kirtsy it if you don't mind because everyone needs to read it.

  4. sweet friend--thanks for your visit to my blog and always your kind are dear. a treasure, a found shell on the beach of life.

  5. You're so right - compassion isn't easy. What is easy (stupidly easy), is to lash out at people who've hurt my still-bruised and battered self (intentionally or not) instead of calling on compassion. I think I'll be struggling with this for a while, but this post is a good reminder that the struggle is worthwhile. Thank you for that.

  6. I read this post late last night and bookmarked it to come back.

    I was going to suggest to Mel that she Kirsty it, but she beat me to it.

    I have added this post to a discussion at BlogHer:

  7. Beautiful, amazing.

    I have been humbled by so much of what I have read since this brouhaha started--humbled about my own response to it.

    Thank you for giving me a lot to think about.

  8. "She intended to hurt those who she perceived had judged and hurt her by their comments."

    As is most often the case, you have opened my heart. I know I have done this to others, and I'm not proud of it. I am ashamed to admit there are times when I feel as though I have been unfairly judged and instead of offering compassion, I lash out in an effort to defend myself. It never ends well. Thank you for your wisdom. I am going to do better. It is easy to offer compassion to children. Easy to offer compassion to those suffering with illness, poverty, or grief...but those I feel have hurt me, judged me or people I believe are intolerant, not so much. I must remember my experiences and perspective lead me to my own conclusions...that doesn't make me right. I'd rather be compassionate and humble than "right". I'm going to do better. Thank you.

  9. Your post has touched my heart. Thanks for writing and rising about the petty conflict I instigated to really reflect on what's going on.

    Kim Hays

    My apology:

  10. Hey! I had an email open to send to Mel to Kirtsy.

    Beautiful. I've stayed out of that argument to not add fuel. You put my feelings into words.

    Peace to everyone.

  11. this is just a lovely post on compassion, blog fiasco aside. thanks for sharing it.

  12. Beautiful post, and so true, compassion is not as easy as it looks.