I just hung up the phone from a conversation with a young man in high school. He’s been challenged with his home life, abuse, and thoughts of suicide. He had a recent suicide attempt and I reached out to him today as his first day back to school. Being honest, I had no idea what to say to him. I wasn’t sure how this conversation was going to go. Yet, I took a deep breath and dialed. I left a message and had a fun day of sitting with this nervousness and a bit of fear until he called back later in the afternoon. My fear was that I wouldn’t be able to help him. “Who am I to help this guy?” I questioned. I then answered myself back, “Who am I not to?” This seemed to calm the self-doubt and fear around it. As I was talking to him I had one intention, to really hear him. I listened as he spoke and reflected back his words with the meaning and feeling I was getting from him. I didn’t offer him any advice and didn’t do anything with the pain he was bringing forward. I listened. As I let the pain be there in the conversation without doing anything with it he started to shift it. He began to tap into his own will to live and became his own hero in that moment. It took my breath away.
Compassion is what I brought to the conversation. I was with him in his pain without needing to fix it, heal it, change it, or make it wrong. I allowed it to be and walked with him in it. This allowed him to begin to see his own light and magnificence. A moment I’ll never forget.
Someone once walked this road with me and forever changed my life. I had been making my thoughts wrong for decades. I viewed my thoughts of wanting to die as bad and thus judged myself for having them. I thought I was so broken and damaged. I didn’t see any way out. I hated myself and made myself so wrong for not being happy. In one conversation this changed for me. For the first time in my life I spoke out loud my shame and my dark secrets. As I did I braced myself for rejection and judgment. I received love and compassion. He didn’t make my pain, my sadness, or my shame wrong. He didn’t make me feel wrong. For the first time in such a long time I didn’t feel wrong and bad and a failure. I felt accepted. Simply coming with compassion was enough to change the entire trajectory of my life. Now that’s power.
I read a fascinating story the other day. A woman was in a car accident and had a near death experience. She saw herself rise out of her body and saw the cars lined up behind her car in the accident. She overheard what the people in the cars were saying. They complained about the traffic, about being delayed, and about the profound inconvenience of this. Five cars back she saw a huge beam of light and as she looked at the light she was suddenly next to the woman in that car. The woman was sending her a prayer. She decided to memorize that woman’s license plate. She immediately came back to her body and went to the hospital. Several weeks later she still remembered the license plate number. She tracked down the woman and thanked her for her prayer. She credited it to her ability to come back and heal. Now, do I know if this is true or not? No, but what if? What if a simple prayer could alter the course of someone’s life? I haven’t heard any accounts of someone’s complaining altering someone else’s life for the better? Have you? Yet there are stories upon stories of prayer and loving doing this. In my view complaining and sending a prayer would take about the same amount of time. Well, the prayer might actually save substantial time and energy. Wouldn’t you want to lean towards sending someone thoughts of compassion, loving, and healing? It could possibly change everything for them. Who wouldn’t want to save a life? This seems like such a no brainer to me.
I think of other amazing people in the world that have been able to create great change on the planet. Nelson Mandela stepped out onto a rugby field wearing the green Springbok uniform. The Springbok emblem once stood as a symbol for the hatred and exclusion for the black population. In him coming with compassion and loving for the Springbok team as well as the 65,000 white rugby fans he united a nation.
“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Does that sound familiar? As Jesus was about to be crucified he came with loving for those who were about to take his life. I don’t even think we need to get into the impact of that for the planet.
What about Martin Luther King, Jr.? He said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” And also famously, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but my the content of their character.” He didn’t have an I have a beef speech.
What about these quotes, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.” Or “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.” Sound familiar? They are just a few of the many wonderful words of Mahatma Gandhi.
There seems to be a theme here, individuals who had a very strong case to judge others behavior as wrong and bad (Jesus, MLK, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela) didn’t. They didn’t blame or hate or judge. They came with compassion and loving. In doing so the very thing they stood for was forever altered.
“The final thing I would like to say to you is that the world doesn’t like people like Gandhi. That’s strange, isn’t it? They don’t like people like Christ, they don’t like people like Abraham Lincoln…One afternoon he walked to his evening prayer meeting. Every evening he had a prayer meeting where hundreds of people came. And he prayed with them. And on his way out that afternoon, one of his fellows Hindus shot him. And here was a man of nonviolence falling at the hands of man of violence. Here was a man of love falling at the hands of a man of hate.
“This seems the way of history. And isn’t it significant that he died on the same day that Christ died. It was on a Friday. And this is the story of history. But thank God, it never stopped there. Thank God Friday is never the end. The man who shot Gandhi only shot him into the hearts of humanity.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
If hating something or someone were to work in changing that very thing, it would have worked by now. Yet, the power of love and compassion to bring about transformative change has been demonstrated over and over again.
What would you like to be different in your life, in the world? Have you been loving that thing or hating it? Have you been bringing compassion or judgment? For me, I spent years hating my sadness and pain. It didn’t do anything but make it worse. For one instant I tried loving and compassion, it forever changed. If you really want something to be different in your life, try loving it.