Preface: I heard something so astoundingly wise and brilliant that the words burned into my brain and begged to be explored. Yet I cannot remember where I saw this, or who said it, so if you are the catalyst for this post, please let me know so I can thank you a thousand times.
When others are suffering, especially those close to us, it is so easy to absorb their pain, share it, and make it our own. We want to help them; we want to make them feel better or fix their problems in one fell swoop. And when we can’t, when all we can do is offer our heartfelt sympathies, support, and love…
But sometimes, it just doesn’t feel like enough. Sometimes we ache to carry their burdens, just so our loved ones can walk easy. Sometimes, even when we can’t help them at all, we take on those burdens anyway.
Burdening ourselves in vain does not help those we love. In fact, it may push them away, as they feel we are too busy, too weighted down, to talk to about their burdens.
Instead of trying to take another person’s burden, why not open a door for them instead? If this metaphorical, emotional burden were a lumpy physical thing draped across someone’s shoulders, you’d get the door for them if your own hands were empty, right?
Then do so. Don’t absorb someone else’s problem; clear the way for them to walk their path to a solution. Support them and encourage them, help them however you can, but don’t weigh yourself down if you can do nothing else constructive. Sometimes, a problem must be solved by the person alone – it is a deep learning experience.
If all you can do is live your own life by your values and seek your own happiness, you are still opening a door; you are providing yourself as a role model of what can be possible for others, too. This is valuable. You can help others by simply being you.
When you can’t improve someone else’s life, work with your own as a shining example. When you can’t help carry a burden, open a door instead.
Let’s play pretend. Whether or not you have a car, you drive, or you get angry at other drivers, just imagine along with me.
That asshole just cut you off in traffic. Goddammit! You slam the steering wheel and fume as Assholio zigzags through the double lanes of trudging cars, desperate to get a few seconds ahead. “Don’t you know you’re not saving time?” you growl at the receding tail lights. You remember those silly commercials – the ones talking about how many tenths of a second that they’d save if only they went 10 mph over the speed limit. They don’t stop you from speeding a little when you can get away with it, but still! Busting a move in rush hour is just plain stupid.
You keep driving, holding your place and resenting it. Hah! Assholio is the first car to get caught at the next red light. You feel a little righteous as you slow to a stop yourself, only three cars back. Assholio’s efforts were in vain, and that makes you feel better – justified, in the right.
Think of what forces on Earth could get you to act like Assholio.
Got a call from the principal of your kid’s school – was there a fight? Did something unfortunate get discovered in your teen’s backpack? Or maybe a call from the nurse’s office, and your baby is waiting for you to take him or her home and make the sickness a little better?
Got a call from your significant other about a car wreck, and all you can think of is getting there to make sure everyone’s okay, even though the call says yes I’m fine but you’re a little too scared to believe it just yet?
Running late for work, and your boss says that the next time you clock in tardy, you’re fired? Or maybe late for class, and there’s a quiz today, and man, if you’re not there in time, your teacher won’t let you take the quiz at all, and that’ll be another hit to your tenuous grade?
It’s not easy to stop and remember that Assholio is just another person like you. It’s not easy to give someone the benefit of the doubt, to remember that we do things for a reason, and the choice we make in each moment is the best option we can see.
But that’s what compassion is. It’s not judging; it’s not condemning. It’s knowing that you could do that exact thing that just pissed you off and cutting the other person a little bit of slack.
After all, when you’re playing the role of Assholio, I bet you wish other people would give you a break. You’re just trying to do your best.
We all are.