Is compassion the missing link?

I get frustrated by lots of things- key the word ‘frustrated’, not angry.  People who go through the ’12 items or less’ lane with 13 items, students who consistently submit late work, exercise infomercials, those who drive below the speed limit, Justin Bieber, cars turning without indicating or people who offer unsolicited advice in the gym.  I often live in my own egocentric world where my feelings, thoughts and beliefs are the most important; for someone to impinge upon these frustrates me.

But isn’t this a problem with society today?  Our lives move so quickly that we are not given any other choice but to live our lives within our own little bubble of egocentrism; a selfish outlook where we consider our needs and affairs before anybody else’s.

Consider the last time you visited the supermarket.  For most people this is nothing more than a part of the mundane experience that is everyday life.  You wake up, work, shop, cook, sleep and repeat.  Eventually, after your 8 hours in the mines you are often tired, stressed and only wanting to go home; yet you realise there is nothing for dinner.  You visit the supermarket and, if you are anything like me, you may be thinking:

“It’s getting late, and I’m tired.  Why won’t this person at the checkout hurry up.”

“How come she didn’t get her money organised beforehand?”

“Did she really just push in?”

“She shouldn’t scream at her child like that.”

“He should get off his damn phone and move, he’s standing right in front of the ________,” amongst other things.

“Self absorption in all its forms kills empathy… When we focus on ourselves, our problems loom large… when we focus on others our minds expand…” Daniel Goleman

With all of these thoughts obscuring our vision of the world; tinging it in shades of black and white, we may miss what is actually going on.  Slow down for a moment, consider that your story is not the only one being written; focus on the possibility that you do not know all the facts.

  • That person at the checkout, they may have just finished work as well; in a job they hate where their boss abuses them all day- they can’t leave though, the job market is too poor.
  • Yes, that woman pushed in but if you had slowed down and payed attention you’d notice she had cough medicine; her son is home with a debilitating cough and is in tears.
  • Even though the woman screamed at her child to be quiet, you can’t see that she’s gone without sleep for two nights; her Father has been hospitalised after collapsing from a stroke.
  • And that man, annoyingly talking loudly on the phone and standing right in front of the item you want, he’s a new father and hasn’t slept in four nights; it’s really a miracle he is standing.

All of these things are not likely, yet they are a possibility.  We will only notice these possibilities if we slow down though, remove ourselves from our own egos and practice compassion and empathy for those around us.

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.” David Foster Wallace

The inability to slow down, and think outside of ourselves, can lead to tumultuous confrontations with our spouses, family and loved ones.  It is estimated that the average marriage lasts 8.8 years and one reason for these breakdowns, and the breakdown of any relationship, comes when we forget to practice attention, awareness and discipline.

When your partner refuses to exercise, it is more likely that you stop and ask yourself, “why am I the only one putting in the effort to look good?” as opposed to, “they are self-conscious about going to a gym; maybe there’s something else we can do together?”  Similarly, if your child stops talking, becomes moody and temperamental you’d likely think, “how could I raise such a child?  Where did I go wrong?”  The real question though is, “I should find out what’s wrong, and help them work through it.”

Our default setting is to internalise and consider how things are affecting us and our egocentric world- it is important to recalibrate your settings and consider that not everything is about you.  Our need for recognition can make this extremely difficult though.

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”  Ernest Hemingway

For everyday life this is important- it ensures our connection to the world around us, and the people within our lives are not lost.  For fitness professionals, the ability to remove one selves from their egos and listen seems to be becoming a lost virtue.

It is essential and imperative that any trainer or group instructor practice the traits of compassion and empathy.  Too often they become blind to their training philosophy and neglect to listen to their clients.  Then injuries occur.  A trainer scolds their client for refusing to complete another set of lunges- their knees have started to hurt and their lower back is aching.  The trainer, upset that their program has been disrupted, forces the client to persever.  The client is unable to claw their way out of bed the next day, and doesn’t return for their next session.

Unfortunately, the trainer doesn’t acknowledge their erroneous outlook- it’s the clients fault for being weak.  Consider, for a moment, the Crossfit movement.  Pairing complex Olympic style lifts with high impact cardio and body weight movements, Crossfit instructors will often ignore the pleas and cries of pained clients in pursuit of completing the workout; injuries ensue, the most common one being rhabdomyolysis.

“… empathy is, for me, one of the marks of a decent human being.” John Connolly, The Book of Lost Things

When you are frustrated because of the Pro-Active Justin Beiber advertisement, or with that driver that cut you off in traffic, or with your client when she tells you that they can’t complete the last set of lunges because their knees are aching, it is important that you slow down, listen, and remember that your world is not the only one spinning.

Everybody in this world needs to work harder to practice compassion and empathy on a daily basis.  Only then will our relationships begin to blossom, our clients will become lifelong friends and we will realise that, just like Spider Man is connected by the Web of Life, empathy and compassion will connect us to everybody in this world- even people that we don’t know.

Above is Tanner and Blair.  Tanner was born with a seizure disorder, seizing everyday at one point, and blind.  He was to be put down until Blair, who was recovering from a gunshot wound, arrived.  Blair started leading Tanner around by his leash, effectively doubling as his eyes.  Since Blair’s arrival, Tanner has not seized once and is no longer being put down.

The full story can be found here.

If dogs can show compassion and empathy towards each other, why do human’s find it so hard?

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