A post about compassion for The #1000 Speak Campaign? Easy Peasy! I’m so full of compassion that I’ve got compassion coming out of my compassion.
I totally care about the suffering of others….and not even just when their suffering causes my suffering.
Like how I’m so full of compassion about the challenges of being a fourth grader that I don’t come right out and tell my daughter that she’s the reason that mommy starts eyeing the wine bottle from across the room during homework time.
Like how when people are suffering injustices around the world, I frequently change my Facebook image to show my support. Hell, sometimes I even tweet about it with the hashtag and everything!
What’s that you say? Compassion isn’t just the absense of bitching about something that annoys you? It’s not just about feeling bad for someone else when they’re having a tough time? You’re supposed to actually try to do something to help?
Well, then how about that time there was a lost dog wandering around the neighborhood and we put it in our backyard until we could find the owner. (Sure, it ends up he wasn’t technically lost, and really it was more like we kidnapped him.) Even though the Humane Society never formally recognized our efforts, I think we made a big dent in the plight of homeless animals everywhere that day.
Sometimes it’s really exhausting being so compassionate.
Fortunately, since I’m obviously all-compassioned-out due to excess compassioning, my daughter came up with a great example of a way that even a little bit of compassion can go a long way in our every day lives.
Imagine you’re 8 years old. Your class is doing a holiday mailbox project where everyone decorates a special paper bag (mailbox) and hangs it out in the hallway so that classmates can deliver special holiday messages during the week leading up to Christmas break.
You’ve decorated yours perfectly with pictures of wrapped gifts and snowflakes and tape it to the wall filled with the anticipation of who you’ll write a note to first and how many cards you will receive in your mailbox. (I hope it’s big enough to fit them all!)
You peek on the way to specials while you deliver notes to three of your friends. Empty. People must be making my notes so special that they’re taking longer.
On the way to lunch you deliver a few more. Yours is still empty. You double check to make sure that you wrote your name nice and clear on the front of the bag. Yep.
After school as you line up to leave for the day, everyone is pulling cards out of their mailboxes and reading them. What the???? Still empty!
On the quiet ride home from school, after repeated pestering from your mom, you finally explain what happened and she assures you that tomorrow will be different.
But the next day is not different.
In fact, it’s worse, because there is a card in your mailbox but after reaching in excitedly to see who it’s from, you realize it’s just from your mom who must have snuck over and put it in there during her volunteer shift. Totally worse than being empty.
You keep a strong front all the way through the final bell but the minute that the mini-van door closes behind you, two days of disappointment finally gets the best of you and your first experience of truly feeling excluded takes over every ounce of your being.
It’s probably not too hard to imagine this scenario because we have all lived it at least one point in our lives. As painful as I thought it was going through it as a kid, that is nothing compared to the pain and sense of helplessness you feel watching your child go through it.
My first mama bear instinct was to start calling up a bunch of her classmates’ parents and ask if they could make sure that their kids made cards for my daughter on Monday. That idea was quickly erased when I realized how that could turn out even 100x more humiliating if people started talking about how her mom had to make people make cards for her.
She could have gone in and started kissing up to classmates, making them all extra special cards to help ensure that they would give her one in return, but in the end, no matter how many nice things you do for someone, there’s no way to guarantee that they’re going to do something nice for you in return.
But there was one thing that she could guarantee: that no one else would have to feel the pain of having an empty bag on Monday. The fact was that even though it felt like she was the only one who hadn’t received a card that there were others that went home for the weekend with empty bags.
Although it was a painful lesson in compassion, it’s a wonderful one to learn at such a young age: Learning that by focusing your efforts on trying to make things better for others, you end up feeling better in the process.
With that as the goal, she started an assembly line of simple cards wishing all her classmates a ‘Happy Holiday’ and affixing a small candy cane to each one. Before we were even half way through, her entire attitude had changed. Instead of focusing on how sad she was about not receiving a card she was so excited about making sure that no one would have the sadness of an empty mailbox on Monday.
Sure enough, when I went to pick my daughter up after school on Monday, I could barely get to her because a few of her friends where circling around her wanting to show her “Look, look, I got your card! I got your card!” Clearly she wasn’t the only one that had been going cardless.
It ends up that she did receive a few cards in her mailbox that day, but the real excitement of her day came from realizing how a small act of kindness had such a huge impact with her friends.
The next day several other people had decided to make cards for the whole class and everyone’s mailboxes were full of holiday wishes.
I love that this act of kindness not only demonstrated compassion for her friends by wanting to help make them happy but also was a lesson in compassion for herself in realizing that she could make herself feel better in the process.
I know it doesn’t compare with the compassion I show by not leaving nasty notes on the windshields of people who park like jerks, but I think that she’s starting to get the hang of it.
Please share this story as part of the #1000Speak project, where 1000 bloggers are sharing stories in an effort to fill the internet with compassion. For more information click here.
Sidenote: In light of yesterday’s post which had a poem about parents needing to “Shut the f*ck up”, I did secure my daughter’s approval before sharing her story. I’m sure it’s not legally binding since she’s under 18, but I let her have an extra pickle with her snack so at least she got paid for her efforts.
Once upon a time, Susanne Kerns was a Senior Account Director at an advertising agency working for two of the top brands in the world. Nine years ago she traded in her corporate life for a life as a stay at home mom, raising two of the best kids in the world. She started her blog, The Dusty Parachute as a way to dust off her online advertising skills to begin her job search. Instead, she now uses it as a way to spend a lot of time on the computer so her kids think that mommy has a job.
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xo - Susanne