You know Sadness, from the movie Inside Out? She knows something profound.
This morning, I read:
If someone asked you if you were compassionate, you might readily say yes. Or at least, "I believe so." But pause to examine the word compassion...For the word comes from the roots that mean literally to "suffer with"; to show compassion means sharing in the suffering "passion" of another. Compassion understood in this way asks more from us than a mere stirring of pity or sympathetic word.
To live with compassion means to enter others' dark moments. It is to walk into places of pain, not to flinch or look away when another agonizes. It means to stay where people suffer. Compassion holds us back from quick eager explanations when tragedy meets someone we know or love.
In some ways you might think such opening ourselves to other' pain would only intensify our own. How many people run to where others are suffering? Who easily hears someone weep or cry out or reveal a quiet sadness? Confronted with poverty or hardship or mourning, we say to ourselves, "Let's go where things feel a little more comfortable." Such is our natural logic.
In so many encounters we try to look away from the pain. We try to help our friends quickly process grief. We hastily look for ways to bring cheer to a child or ailing aunt. All the while, however, we act less our of genuine "suffering with" and more out of our need to stand back from the discomfort we fear we might feel. We secretly restlessly want to move from the place where it hurts. Our evasions do not help others, of course, but rather cause them to put up defenses and drive away those who need someone to care.
One reason we react to others this way grows out of our skirting of our own pain. We resist getting near the suffering of another partly out of our unwillingness to suffer ourselves. For another's hardship suggests to us what can also hurt us. Such reminders unsettle. But our hesitation to look squarely at another's suffering, to sit or stand with someone in pain, weighs on conversations an obligation for the other to "act happy." Even worse, our persisting in denying our losses leads to mounting desire to control other people's lives. In his penetrating study, The Betrayal of the Self, the psychoanalyst Arno Gruen shows convincingly how "the actual source of our cruelty and callousness lies in the rejection of our suffering."
For we may fall into the illusion that we own people, that we can use them, that we have a right to manage their feelings. By offering premature advice on how to cope, by rushing to reassure, by prodding with advice, we say much about or own needs for easy closure. When we barge in with such consolation, we make hurting souls into objects or projects.
For all the ways this approach seems to insulate us from the hurts and needs of others, it ends up not helping us at all...We find relationships bending or even breaking under the weight of expectations we place on them in our discomfort with another's suffering. We end up even more alone and walled within our disappointments or sadnesses."
-Henri Nouwen, Turn My Mourning into Dancing
By being brave enough to look deeply into our own suffering, we become able to sit with others in their suffering. By learning to show genuine compassion, to truly "suffer with" another, we will build gentleness, gratitude and even joy in our own hearts as well as meaningful relationships with others. Our hearts will be bigger and our world will be better if we can be brave enough to look into and understand the depths of our own suffering.