Posts Tagged ‘compassion’

Reverence and Resilience: Heartbreak in Isla Vista

May 27, 2014

Dateline: Santa Barbara, California.

By now, most of you have heard about the tragic shootings in Isla Vista, the beachside community adjacent to UCSB. A lone, deranged young man decided he would wreak revenge upon humanity, swearing he would, “slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up blonde slut” he found and the “obnoxious brutes” who were with them. To memorialize his plans, he posted a chilling YouTube video and composed a 140 page manifesto setting out his reasons for instigating such horrors. Having lived and worked very nearby, I am familiar with the area and watched the sheriff’s press briefings live on the Internet.

 

What happened in IV is awful beyond words and reminiscent of prior tragedies involving innocent life suddenly and inexplicably wiped away. And the fact that this senseless act occurred at the onset of Memorial Day Weekend, a time when we, as Americans, pause to revere the sacrifices of our war dead triggers complicated feelings about grief, loss, privacy and gun rights, mental illness, the limits of legislation to control an individual’s actions, regret, and resilience.

 

This last word is the most important of the series because the world–and life–moves forward, no matter what has befallen us. And thank goodness this is true. As searing as any loss a person or society has suffered, we need humanity to continue. So, having said this I’m setting up the resilience portion of this post.

 

Now comes the reverence. (Or lack thereof.)

 

What has haunted me most since learning about the events in Isla Vista came from a quote made immediately in the aftermath of the shootings. A local newspaper, The Santa Barbara Independent, published an article that stated, “One young man, Sam, who was sitting at Starbucks on Saturday morning, recollected that some people seemed clueless to the whole incident. Others said they ‘weren’t going to let it ruin their night.’” A second article quoted an on-site journalist reporting, “Some people are curious what the hell is going on, and others are cruising around with 18-packs.” In another, some students were observed “doing their homework” on nearby patios as law enforcement investigated. Reading these observations appalled me. The utter lack of empathy reflected in the statements or actions of those who couldn’t be bothered to pause or alter their behavior by murder and mayhem goes beyond any sort of thoughtless, shocked reactions of callow youth.

 

I’ve pondered a lot about how or why people could behave this way ever, let alone in the context of their fellow students and community. Where is the reverence for the lives lost and the peace shattered? I know individuals can say cold-blooded things without truly meaning to inflict harm or show such absolute disregard for the plight of others, but the quotes I mentioned above seem to me to surpass any such foolishness. When I reflect on these reports, all I feel is sadness that those people will have to live, for the rest of their lives, with the fact that they uttered such awful words and wonder if their actions accurately reflect a person so devoid of humanity. In the chaos of the aftermath, they simply couldn’t be bothered to get upset about the shootings that happened right there, where they could see and hear the suffering all around them. “How could you be like that?” I wonder. And, yes, I am judging.

 

It’s true that in the face of any tragedy, those who survive must continue with their lives, an important aspect of this process involves letting go of the emotional pain and shock those impacted feel. In order to find a clear way forward, the agonized must redefine their love and relationship to who or what has been lost. It is our moral obligation to continue living life. But moving on does not include casually roaming the streets of IV with packs of beer and offhand remarks about spoiled weekends. This is not resilience. There is no reverence in such behavior. This is something else, entirely.

 

So, while we pray and mourn and celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us—whether lost in war or something much closer to home—I urge you to include in your thoughts compassion for the unfeeling few who simply can’t be bothered.

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Redoping Our Personal Leaks

November 5, 2013

At what point does something useful morph into a toxin of sorts? We’re all familiar with the admonitory phrase, “Too much of a good thing,” and can think of examples of people who embody such tales. Whether its food, emotions, medication, or utilities, the key to channeling any of these beneficial substances lies in their implementation. If used incorrectly, they can switch from helpful to hurtful.

 

During a recent visit to her parents’ home, a friend was alarmed by the odor of gas throughout the basement—a smell nobody else noticed, they were so accustomed to it. The leaking gas line required immediate repair, a technique often referred to as “redoping.” Fortunately, nobody was injured, but the scenario captured my imagination as a way to consider what sorts of messages “leak” out of us. Every single one of us has blind spots in our lives, from which we transmit information about who we are or how we perceive the world, and we don’t even realize we’re doing it.

 

It’s way easier to recognize the steady, low hiss of others’ transmissions than it is to detect our own. What makes this so unsettling is that element of surprise, in the sense that we don’t realize we’re doing this, that we’re communicating this message. It’s hard to know how to address a problem when you don’t recognize that certain behaviors or attitudes are the equivalent of highway billboards. Examples of invisible leaks I’ve witnessed range from personal insecurity that manifests through name dropping, bullying tactics, and pricey wardrobes; deliberate blindness to seriously dysfunctional family dynamics; or those who seep a defensive mien cloaked under aggressive behavior. That perpetual trickle of disappointment or martyrdom is not so minor as to go unnoticed. We reassure ourselves that our secret beliefs are hidden from the world, when they’re not; what’s unnoticed by us is patently obvious to everyone else. The thing about my case study of the actual leaking gas line is that although nobody in the house noticed the rank smell, it remained immediately apparent to “outsiders”!

 

It’s normal for us to have hang ups—no human being escapes such baggage, and of course it’s always easier to diagnose the problems of others than to address our own, but much of the time what people do is simply pretend it isn’t there. Hear no evil, see no evil, ignore all signs of evil. Instead of tackling the serious leak, many folks opt for the sloppy, psychological version of redoping–whipping out some duct tape and hoping the problem goes away. We put our hands over our ears and sing loudly or threaten to grow furious should anyone raise the issue. Yeah, that’ll show them.

 

So, my fellow re-booters, where are your leaks? How might those close to you answer this?

 

I know you’re squirming right now…

 

What re-booters understand is that tackling this challenge is part of our lifetime journey. We are all here to “get over” something, so the fact that each of us has such challenges is an important part of what we have in common! Our personal gas leaks may vary in number and quality, but the important part isn’t the leak, it’s how we go about repairing it. How we assist others tackling their own redoping projects. It’s why we’re here.

 

Compassion and a willingness to assist another is a key characteristic of any re-booter. Much of the time, the only person who can replace the faulty line is the person him or herself, but we are on hand to assist if we can be helpful.  What I love and admire most about re-booting in general is that it includes the ability to notice a leak, offer assistance, and not take personal offense if the homeowner freaks out and simply throws some duct tape at it. It’s not our gas line, it’s not our leak. But we didn’t remain silent and we made ourselves available to them.

 

Such qualities are a world away from those who would rather perish in an explosion than acknowledge the scope of the problem or those who might titter and gossip about the leaks at another’s home. I know this analogy is getting rather heavy handed, but I find that I can comprehend some of these more abstruse topics by utilizing concrete, mundane images. My friend’s gas line was repaired, no problem, and all is safe. Good news, indeed.

The Power of Personal Courage

August 22, 2013

The recent near-tragedy at the Georgia charter school, McNair Learning Academy, was averted by a front-office school employee who wasn’t supposed to work that day. As reflected in the recorded 911 call, Antoinette Tuff displayed awe inspiring calm and compassion as she spoke to the 20 year old, mentally ill gunman, repeatedly calling him back into the room with her so he wouldn’t go into the school hallway and start shooting. In a subsequent interview with tv station WSBTV, Tuff told the reporter that she watched the gunman load his gun in front of her, realizing that what was happening was, “bigger than me. I started praying for him [the gunman].” She said that as this crisis was unfolding, she knew that, “800 babies and staff members depended on me to keep their lives safe.”

 

The composure with which Ms. Tuff speaks during the recorded call and the tv interview were only punctuated at the end by confessions of how scared she felt at the time. Her courage, compassion, and empathy is a crystalline example of what I hope I’d be able to do if confronted by a similar situation.

 

It’s hard to imagine an instance more dramatic than the conditions under which Ms. Tuff so superbly performed. She put aside all fear for her personal safety and, repeatedly, called the gunman back to her. “[This situation] was bigger than me. I started praying for him.” The fact that this brave woman could summon a concern bigger than her own survival and, simultaneously, find compassion for her would-be executor stuns me. “I gave it all to God,” she explained, somehow summoning the right words, manner, and tone of voice that connected with the gunman so effectively that he put down his weapons and lay down on the floor willing to surrender to the police. Antoinette Tuff wasn’t supposed to work at the PreK-5 school that day, and the front office desk she was sitting at wasn’t even hers.

 

Hopefully, none of us will ever be confronted with a situation so awful, but there are elements of what Ms. Tuff demonstrated that we can use for inspiration in our own lives and daily struggles—personal courage and the ability to put the big picture ahead of our individual concerns is something for each one of us to consider.

 

Towards the end of Spiderman 2, Tobey Maguire and James Franco’s characters face one another in their dual capacities as friends and enemies. Frantic to find Mary Jane Watson, Spiderman asks Harry Osborn where Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) has taken her. Reluctant to help Spiderman in any way, Harry accuses Spiderman of killing his father, to which Spiderman replies, “There are bigger things happening here than me and you.” Harry relents and gives Spidey the clues he needs to rescue Mary Jane from the evil and crazy Doc Ock. This is my favorite line in the movie.

 

It may seem strange that I would choose to pair the very serious, real life heroism of Antoinette Tuff with a scene out of a Marvel Comics’ inspired film, but as regular readers of this blog should know, I am a firm believer in the power of fiction to convey the biggest truths of human nature. Both examples discussed here are larger than the lives we lead—but that was true, too, for Antoinette Tuff until two days ago. The challenge is how do we learn from and apply examples and lessons presented in scenarios way more extreme and seemingly dramatic than those we must face throughout our lives?

 

Personal courage is a choice. Seeing the big picture and acting on it is a deliberate act of will. What is the big picture in your life? Is it remaining in a difficult relationship or job until your kids graduate and can fend for themselves? Is it turning down a promotion so you can remain closer to home in order to care for aging relatives? Is it taking the risk and inevitable backlash that accompanies most whistleblowers? Is it sacrificing your personal dream to meet a higher objective? Perhaps it’s extending yourself just one more time to give that person who’s disappointed or harmed you the reassurance or forgiveness they seek. There were no guarantees that Antoinette Tuff would live to see the next hour, but she repeatedly called the gunman back to her. As much as Harry Osborn wanted revenge on Spidey, he revealed where Mary Jane was hidden so she could be rescued. These are just two powerful examples of setting aside personal concerns for a more important cause.

 

Anonymous examples of this sort of courage surround us, but we need to watch for them, acknowledge them, and appreciate those brave enough to try because this will help us when the time comes for us to make our choice. 

Respecting the Limits of What We Can Do

August 1, 2013

Re-booters do not live in a vacuum. We co-exist with others, many of whom have no interest or awareness of the personal re-booting process, caught in a web of problems of their own making. I don’t say this unsympathetically; after all, much of the time we’re our own worst enemy, aren’t we? More often than not, we are enthusiastic participants in our misery making.

 

But as re-booters, we are keenly aware that we have the power to rescue ourselves from such pits whether it be through a process of re-framing the issue, taking steps to escape the triggers of such annoyances, or any number of other remedies available to us if we’re willing to do things differently. Knowing this is incredibly empowering—even if our efforts fall short of the mark—because we know we are our own rescuers.

 

But what can a re-booter do when someone close to them invites, creates, and re-creates sure-fire patterns of unhappiness? It’s difficult to watch someone we care about suffer. I think the worst part, for me, is watching them utterly refuse to think about the matter in a new light—the temptation to cling to old ways is not to be underestimated. After the typical initial expressions of support and sympathy, I find myself (internally) getting impatient with the sufferer. I wrestle with how often I can express sympathy when my stockpile has run dry. What does it mean to be kind and concerned when a loved one makes a mess of their lives yet refuses to examine their own responsibility for this mini-drama?

 

How do we manage to offer compassion and provide the sort of support we aspire to when we’re sick and tired of hearing the same complaints ad nauseam?

 

Of late, I’ve been contemplating the limits of personal responsibility to those we love. When people are in our personal space on a daily basis and driving us crazy with their particular issues, it’s a challenge to maintain those feelings of compassion and patience which are characteristic of a mature adult. As much as I may strive to do this myself, I often fall short of the mark, followed by feelings of guilt for my impatience and desire to run away. But, one of the reminders that keeps me on a more even keel when feeling fed up is the knowledge that there is little I can do to alter another’s behavior. It’s Not Up To Me.

 

I may have strongly held opinions about what’s occurring. I may have handled their situation differently. I may never have gotten myself involved in such a mess with such a cadre of dysfunctional characters, but as clearly as I may see the “solution,” it’s not for me to mend. All too often, well intentioned people want to “fix” other people’s problems—they listen and nod, bring meals and hold hands, they give advice and then listen some more—all the while experiencing increasing frustration as the complainer does nothing concrete to remedy the situation. Powerlessness is an awful feeling but recognizing that we are incapable of changing another’s behavior or choices is necessary knowledge to being able to support those we care about without exploding in frustration.

 

I want you to think about a person you love who gets themselves into the same mess over and over. Now I want you to think about your experience supporting them—it changed over the course of the problem, didn’t it? Did you start out believing you could make it better for them? What happened when they didn’t act on your advice but came to you about the same issue again? What was going through your mind?

 

People are imperfect—we make mistakes. Part of the evolution of a re-booter is recognizing just how much and when we can be there to help and respecting the limits of our power to do so.

The blissful quality of sweet escape

July 18, 2013

Fireflies fill the night. I am alone in the family vacation cottage, relishing my time away from the rest of my life. “I think I am happiest when traveling,” confesses a decades-long friend, unwilling to say (out loud) the rest of the sentence about being away from family duties and choices they sometimes question. I understand because I feel exactly the same way.

Questions of compassion, questions of mercy, and what it means to be a mature adult flit across my mind before I banish them in favor of listening to the cicadas and watching the children on bikes, followed by Labradors happily following behind, tails awaggin’. I listen to laughter drift across the gravel roads, of people (newcomers, really) who know one another far better than I, a longtimer and a stranger; I don’t fit in—not really, despite my “credentials.” But, this is ok, because it reflects the rest of my life. I can relax in my strangeness—not that anyone would necessarily identify me that way, well, except me, of course. No one is looking to me for anything. Escape can be a good, good thing.

Usually, I focus my efforts in this blog on being “real” and the willingness to honestly confront (apologies for the split infinitive) our day-to-day reality. But not today.

Today, I want to celebrate the importance of escape, of feeling wistful, of wanting to be alone. Each and every one of us wants these things and if you deny this, well, you’re either fooling yourself or are a liar. The trick is in not condemning ourselves for craving solitude, for what was, for what we can’t or don’t…have.

It’s odd to live in suspension, isn’t it? It is! What is it about running away that is so subversively delicious? I can’t tell you the number of people who have confessed wishing, desperately, to escape their realities. Who are wistful about…what was and what might have been. Who go home, each night, and struggle against their desire for something or someone who isn’t there. Some lucky few have what they want. And for those of you who do, hold tight, be grateful, and don’t forget how unusual you are.

All families are Faulknerian in nature—each and every single one of them and you know what I mean by that!  So, number one: give yourself a break; and number two: be aware of the shrill panicky quality in the laughter you hear drift from across the street—they’re not, necessarily having the carefree fun they hope to convey. This is what keeps me sane—I’m not so far “off course,” no matter what sort of show they put on. They, too, have sturm und drang. A re-booter knows this.

The Limits of Helping Others

April 23, 2013

Re-booters do not live in a vacuum. We co-exist with others, many of whom have no interest or awareness of the personal re-booting process, caught in a web of problems of their own making. I don’t say this unsympathetically; after all, much of the time we’re our own worst enemy, aren’t we? More often than not, we are active participants in our misery making.

 

But as re-booters, we are keenly aware that we have the power to rescue ourselves from such pits whether it be through a process of re-framing the issue, taking steps to escape the triggers of such annoyances, or any number of other remedies available to us if we’re willing to do things differently. Knowing this is incredibly empowering—even if our execution of such efforts falls short of the mark—because we know we are our own rescuers.

 

But what can a re-booter do when someone close to them invites, creates, and re-creates sure-fire patterns of unhappiness? It’s difficult to watch someone we care about suffer. After the typical initial expressions of support and sympathy, I find myself (internally) getting impatient with the sufferer. I wrestle with how often I can express sympathy when my stockpile has run dry. What does it mean to be kind and concerned when a loved one makes a mess of their lives yet refuses to examine their own responsibility for this mini-drama?

 

How do we manage to offer compassion and provide the sort of support we aspire to when we’re sick and tired of hearing the same complaints ad nauseum?

 

Of late, I’ve been thinking a lot about the limits of individual responsibility to those we love. When people are in our personal space on a daily basis and driving us crazy with their particular issues, it’s a challenge to maintain that feeling of compassion and patience that is characteristic of a mature adult. As much as I may strive to reach that point myself, I fall short of the mark, followed by feelings of guilt for my impatience and desire to run away. But, one of the reminders that keeps me on a more even keel when I feel fed up is the knowledge that there is little I can do to alter another’s behavior. It’s Not Up To Me.

 

I may have strongly held opinions about what’s occurring. I may have handled their situation differently. I may never have gotten myself involved in such a mess with such a cadre of dysfunctional characters, but as clearly as I may see the “solution,” it’s not for me to mend. All too often, well intentioned people want to “fix” other people’s problems—they listen and nod, bring meals and hold hands, they give advice and then listen some more—all the while experiencing increasing frustration as the complainer does nothing concrete to remedy the situation. Powerlessness is an awful feeling but recognizing that we all are incapable of changing another’s behavior or choices is necessary knowledge to being able to support those we care about without losing it ourselves.

 

I want you to think about a person you love who gets themselves into the same mess over and over. Now I want you to think about your experience supporting them—it changed over the course of the problem, didn’t it? Did you start out believing you could make it better for them? What happened when they didn’t act on your advice but came to you about the same issue again? What was going through your mind?

 

People are imperfect—we make mistakes. Part of the evolution of a re-booter is recognizing just how much and when we can be there to help and respecting the limits of our power to do so.


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