So I guess I have been struggling with this term for a little while now. Sometimes compassion comes so easily...you don't even realize it until it drowns you. A sick child, a victim of a crime, a friend struggling in a relationship. All of these things make you feel empathetic and sad... and relieved it is not you. Still, being an observer of sadness naturally stirs up a certain amount of compassion..that being a part of our humanity.
Sometimes it hurts so much you have to try not to think about it, because you suffering right along with someone else doesn't necessarily alleviate any of the other person's frustration or pain.
Don't get me wrong..I am not saying we should crush out our humanity, we just need to realize that there is only so much we can do in situations. If compassion motivates us to act in a helpful way, wonderful. But if it just drags us down and leaves us in the dark as well, it has not served it's purpose.
My mother said she used to feel everything I did...any discomfort I experienced was all she could focus on. And, she pointed out, suffering along with me didn't make me feel any better. It just meant another person was suffering. As a mom, I think it comes naturally though, and is part of the protective instinct we need to keep our kids safe. It's part of our job.
The compassion for my children is inate. I want to teach them to be compassionate people beyond what comes naturally to them. I want them to realize there is a world out there so much bigger than they are, and that everything does not revolve around them and their comfort level.
I send them mixed messages. For years I have dropped any and everything to refill a sippy cup. I have anticipated any need to avoid crying. I have allowed them to believe they are truly the center of the world because they are the center of my world. And now that they are getting older, I need to teach them to think of others.
So here is my struggle..I also want them to be safe. I don't want to expose them to things that might disrupt their innocence, but I don't want them living in a bubble. I want them protected, yet aware.
As we were leaving the pediatrician's office the other day, I noticed a man sitting on a bench a few doors down. He was filthy, and obviously homeless. Now this is a very nice part of town, and you are much more likely to see BMWs than homeless people. I hustled my kids to the truck, also bringing us closer to the homeless man. The closer we got, the more I could hear him mumbling. And then ranting. He was yelling obscenities ( and you know my children never hear that shit) and obviously perturbed. I got my kids in their seats as quickly as possible and locked the doors. I was reaching fo my cell phone to call the Dr's office and warn them about the ranting homeless man outside when I saw the bag of biscuits I had picked up on the way to our appointment. My kids hadn't fully recovered their appetites from being sick, so we had two wrapped biscuits that hadn't been touched.
Now, I don't want you to think I am heartless..I am not. I have given groceries to a man that was always outside of the grocery store in Green Bay, sponsored many Angel Tree kids, raised money for the Red Cross after 9/11.The kids and I even volunteer for a non-profit. I have just never done anything like THIS with my children. So I was a little reluctant. I did not want to put my kids in harm's way. I pulled up along side the man and rolled down the window.
"Would you like a biscuit?"
"Yes, thank you. I hope you have a nice day."
And that was it. I am not even sure my kids noticed the exchange. But I figure if they are going to learn by example, then it shouldn't be a big deal that I was compassionate to a stranger. I shouldn't talk about it, I should live it. I have a freind who lives this way, she would not have given it a second thought before handing over the biscuit, and probably a few dollars. But it doesn't come as easily to me. Hopefully one day it will, and also to my kids.
But I also don't want them approaching anyone who may need their "help" one day looking for a lost puppy. Or ever putting themselves in danger. I want them to have good judgement, and trust their instincts, but not to trust everyone. I want them to be cautiously skeptical, yet open hearted. I want them to be empathetic and compassionate, without sacrificing their safety.
And I want them to feel compassion for others, but not be dragged down by it. I want compassion to motivate them to do good, not make them sad and angry. This parenting stuff is hard.