1. influential: able to exert a lot of influence and control over people and events "a powerful nation"
2. strong: having or exerting great physical or mental strength
3. effective: possessing the strength or qualities to produce a fast and effective result "a powerful antibiotic"
There is no doubt that we are a very powerful species. Whether this power is used for the benefit of our own and the rest of the planet or for destruction is the question. A remarkable man who calls himself the Peace Artist has a unique perspective from his experience of running across the United States with only Art Supplies and the clothes on his back. Before his adventure he noted “We will either learn to live together in peace or die in mutually assured destruction.” After experiencing the kindness of countless strangers on his travels he hopefully asserts "I say this wholeheartedly: everything that is done from compassion will be met with success. The nature of the universe is love.”
The key to harnessing our collective "power of we" and to promoting peace and quality living for all of earth's beings, is compassion. It sounds so simple, and yet, it is not easy or we would have it all figured out by now. But the message is everywhere if our hearts are open to it - uniting the major religions of the world in the Charter for Compassion or in Sprouting Seeds of Compassion's mission to plant trees.
As our greatest strengths are often also our weaknesses, in this case the problem is contained within the solution - Passion. We all have our causes that make us burn. Just as real fire can help feed us, warm us, and keep us safe, our passion can be a very powerful force for good. Passion causes us to cry out when we witness injustices and brings us to action. But what happens when someone or something flies right in the face of beliefs that we may have spent many long hours, days, or even years piecing together? It's as if someone threw gasoline onto our fire! The explosion will potentially burn anyone too close to our fire - ourselves included. Passion divides us when we use it to judge or condemn others and creates an illusion of otherness. The truth is that we are all interconnected and our actions will always affect each other - it's up to us to choose a loving path, and the sooner the better.
It's been helpful for me to think of wrapping my Passion in Love. Practically speaking this means taking a deep breath or waiting to speak my mind when I feel my passion as anger instead of love. If we can move towards doing this more and more, then we can begin to get to a place of Compassion. And from this space we can harness our true collective power to make positive change in the world.
Compassion is the ability to transform and we can see its metamorphic power in stories like this and this (I just noticed these both take place on airplanes! Is there something magical about being confined to a small space with strangers?!) Yes, compassion is the key to thriving in the future, but only by practicing it now. And let's not forget the past - how can compassion do anything about what's already over and done with?
Compassion for the Past
In one simple word: forgiveness. After learning whatever lessons we need from our experiences, challenges, hurts and trials it is time to look back on it all with a compassionate heart. We cannot change the past so to move forward effectively we must make peace with it and release it. We must forgive ourselves and others. I've read a lot of great material on forgiveness in the past year because it's something I struggle with personally (not because I've had such terrible things happen to me, but because I am a perfectionist and one side effect of this is dwelling on things - both about myself and others. It's not healthy.) All the wisdom I've come across states that forgiveness is for yourself, not for the person who hurt you. If you are carrying hatred, anger and hurt inside then you are not operating at your highest capacity. Not only that you just aren't living the happy, joyful life that you are entitled to! But don't beat yourself up too much if you struggle with forgiveness - forgive yourself for it and believe that we are all doing the best we can at any given moment. Then move on and strive to do better. If someone can release the abuse of their children or their family's killers, in the case of Immaculée Ilibagiza, then surely we can learn to forgive ourselves and loved ones for leaving the ice-cream out or telling each other to "shut up".
Compassion in the Now
Although this post is all about how through compassion we can finally harness the sea of communal power - of our "we" togetherness - I believe the present relies on us committing to individual, personal, and deep introspection. Only by knowing ourselves, our triggers, our faults and where we can improve can we then move from compassion. If something irritates us or bothers us that is our cue to turn the mirror back on ourselves and examine our own actions. Even if we really, truly believe (or even KNOW) deep in our core that we are in the RIGHT, we can still look at our reactions, how we relate and communicate with others, and most importantly what compassionate action we can take after processing. And actually, just looking at that word "right" kind of says it all. Because "right" and "wrong" sets us up immediately for competition instead of cooperation. Compassion is putting ourselves in another's shoes and seeing things from their perspective. It's learning about what they've been through or what their thought process is before jumping in with your own battery of explanations, reasons, research or stats.
Oh, and I know this isn't easy which is why we have to go easy on ourselves as we learn. It's especially difficult with those we are closest to - our partners and children. Why is this? That we often become our worst selves with those that mean the most to us? Perhaps because they are who we feel the safest with or maybe just the laziest with. But if we cannot put the effort in with our loved ones in our own homes, how can we expect peace to spread the globe?
My Alma Mater's motto is "Meliora" which the University of Rochester translates to "Ever Better". We may not be perfect but armed with forgiveness for mistakes and a willingness to always work on ourselves we may become ever better at this thing called compassion.
Sowing Compassion for the Future
I cannot believe how many amazing writers, causes, and blogs there are out there - I find new ones every day! And behind each one is a person. But how can we really maximize this human potential in our future? Through our children, which means through our parenting or any adult/child relationship.
My passion is my children and parenting - both personally and generally as a practice. I have a lot of very specific ideas about what it means to raise children in a loving, respectful manner and most of these ideas are not the norm in our modern, western culture. I truly, in my heart-of-hearts believe, that compassion in the future starts with our children, because they are literally our future.
Right now it is commonplace in our culture for children to be spanked (hit), punished for a wide range of behaviors - many within normal developmental ranges - shamed, and isolated. Are any of these compassionate? And how can we expect our children to grow up to be compassionate when this is the way they are treated from the time they are babies?
People don't like to hear it spelled out that way. They will say, well children must learn, or be taught, or have any number of reasons for their actions.
But here I go. You see - I'm becoming passionate and when I do that it becomes, "me versus them", and I'm leaving compassion and therefore our power behind. So what do we do? How do we become compassionate when we see others acting in a way we don't believe is?
I will say it is easier in every day life. Because I love the people that I know sleep train their babies or spank their toddlers. I love my friend who takes away her kids' candy because she's worried they'll eat too much or gives her kids time-outs. Right now the best thing I know how to do is to not participate in conversations that I don't agree with, to offer my life, my family's choices and our relationships as our living testimony, and to bare it all here on my blog.
I also remind myself that many of the parenting practices I find unkind are actually a result of parents trying to cope with our modern social constructs. Right now most families live in isolated "nuclear" units - parents and children. Most children are raised by a single stay-at-home parent, a nanny, or daycare or some combination of these. This is not our natural state. We are communal, social animals - evolved to live in tribes. Now instead of having a whole network of support woven around you 24 hours a day that consists of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends, we have single adults raising multiple children.
Look at this beautiful picture and read the story put with it.
That is compassion. Would this ever happen in our neighborhoods? How can we start making changes so that does become our reality?
I was worried as I worked on this post about getting too preachy, self-righteous, and "know-it-ally". But then I released that worry (actually I mentally said "F**k it!" - but that's my new, not so PC way of releasing worries). I thought to myself, this is my theory and belief and something I've thought deeply about. I've read many stories and testimonies of families choosing to buck societal norms and who are raising amazing children. Children who may grow up to change the world. I believe each of us is here to experience life and part of that is putting our theories to test. The trick is to not get too attached to them. If what I'm practicing isn't working out so well then I will reassess. I think that is what we should all do and stop worrying about being "right" or "wrong". I want others to trust me that I am on the right path for me so I'm working on offering that same consideration to everyone else.
In the end the one constant is kindness. Compassion is what will enable our race to evolve further and preserve our mother-earth. And the only people who can tell me whether I'm keeping up my end of the deal in this regard are living right here, under this roof with me.
Wife, mom, information and peace seeker.