Accessing the pain of the world by staying small
You only have to turn on the news to be confronted with the pain of the world. Wars are raging, disasters are rampant, and the ecological systems are collapsing. “If babies are not starving someplace, they are starving somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils”, it is written in one of my favourite poems.
The problem with these sufferings is that they are close to our imagination, but not close to us. They fill our hearts with grief and make our heads shake in disbelief, but we are left wondering how we can ever make a dent in alleviating the global sufferings. We can feel the suffering, but we cannot touch it. As one of my personal core values is tenderness, I have been asking myself lately how I can touch this suffering. How can I apply kindness and compassion in a world with so much grief and despair? Although I don’t have all the answers, I do have a few thoughts I would like to share.
We cannot change the world by thinking on a global scale (unless you happen to have a few billion dollars laying around, then perhaps). But we can change the world by staying small – through individualised consideration. We do this by offering our compassionate heart to those around us, extending a warm hand to those we can touch and lending a smile to those we cross paths with. We cannot access the pain of the world by trying to touch it, but by touching the pain that is right in front of us we access the pain of the world. Staying small in compassion changes not only the world. It also changes those around you and that which inside of you. Here is how.
For the world
Compassion is not the solution. It won’t end wars or stop climate change or feed the hungry. It won’t fix the sufferings of the world. And it won’t alleviate you from your responsibilities as a global citizen to think about your social and environmental impact on the world. But compassion is a sign of hope. It is a sign that amid all the suffering and pain, there are little moments of tenderness that touch a few specks of the hurt and bring them into the light. It shows the world that despite all the greed and hatred –despite the greed and hatred inside of us – there is reason to be optimistic. There is reason to believe that a future filled with more tenderness and kindness could eventually lead to more solutions.
Compassion won’t fix the world and it won’t fix your loved ones. Tenderness is not about trying to make everything better; it is about allowing for things to be bad. It is about holding space for sorrow to unfold. It is about opening up the opportunity for others to fall apart when they can no longer hold it together. And it is simply showing up for the darkest moments of a human soul without wishing those moments away. Parker Palmer wrote so beautifully:
The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed, to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is. When we make that kind of deep bow to the soul of a suffering person, our respect reinforces the soul’s healing resources, the only resources that can help the sufferer make it through.
When people are allowed to feel their emotional truths, good or bad, emotional healing flourishes. Offering those around you your gift of presence is perhaps the most tender thing you can possibly do.
Generosity is, in essence, a letting go - a loosening up. When we are unwilling to lend a helping hand to those in need, it is a sign that we are holding on to something. It shows that there is a pain inside us that we believe is too tender to be touched. But everything needs air and sunshine to heal. Even our emotional pain. Participating in the act of generosity allows us to loosen up in a way that makes it possible for our own emotional wounds to heal. Please don’t close off your heart. Do not let the global suffering make you hard. Do not let the bitterness of a grieving world steal the sweetness of your soul. By offering whatever you can – a smile to a stranger, your presence to a loved one, a word of encouragement to the lady that lives across the street – you practice the art of softening your heart. And by doing that you receive your own dose of healing and relief.
For more ways to practice the art of generosity, consider the options below:
Check this list of ethical charities, if you want to practice generosity with a dollar.