I assume good intention in the following. I assume that we care about each other and want to be of help. I have had the following experience among people whom I know to be thoughtful and loving and whose intention is never in question. In fact, it is in gentleness that this occurs. What I want to describe to you is, I think, born of caring.
And it is something that I do. Regularly. So I can fairly and accurately write the following in first person.
Compassion: I use the word compassion when I mean “to suffer with.” I think this is the literal meaning.
If I find you with fear or sadness I might try to convince you that the reason for your fear or sadness will pass, or even that it is unfounded.
When you are suffering and I try to talk you out of it, I’m not being with you in your pain. I am looking past the experience you are having in this very moment in favor of a rational argument about why you should drop the experience you are having.
Maybe I laugh it off, saying “Oh, is that all! Everyone does that – that’s nothing!” Then not only have I dismissed your pain, I have also trivialized the reason you gave for it.
I have missed an opportunity to better understand you. Talking you out of your pain or fear will not lead me to understand you better. Sitting with you in your pain might.
We are expected to give reasons for everything. I see you are in pain and I want to know why. Many times though the reason you will give in answer is little more than surface reaction. When you are in distress and I question you about your reasons, you might feel pressured to be rational when your current state of being is emotional. The reason you give might not at all be a reliable guide.
It is not your reasons that want my understanding. It is your state of being that needs my presence. If you feel unloved there’s an entire world ready to judge the truth of that. I want to find the place within me where I feel unloved and join you there.
I want to take the time and the breath to offer you compassion, not just intervention.