When people upset, disappoint, frustrate and even harm us, it’s easy to forget their humanity. It’s easy to think the person is a jerk, irresponsible, lazy, selfish and on and on when someone has done us wrong. It’s also easy to assume the person purposefully did what they did because of who they are as a human being.
The truth though, is that most people are trying to do the right thing. Most of us want nothing more than to have loving relationships free from pain and hurt. Unfortunately though, we do upset, disappoint and even hurt others—not because we’re jerks, lazy or mean-spirited, but for a host of reasons that go beyond these labels. Sometimes the issue is that we just can’t get out of our own way. Many things impact our choices including trauma, fear, addiction, mental illness, upbringing, insecurity, loneliness and on and on. Seldom is human behavior as simplistic as “lazy” or the like. When we realize this and are able to have compassion for the reasons behind the poor choices people make, we will begin to have compassion for our own poor choices.
Compassion is vital to relationships. When we lose our compassion we become hardened. When we can have compassion for the difficulty our partner with ADD has remembering things rather than hatred for their “forgetfulness”, we uphold their dignity. When we combine the compassion with holding them accountable to remember, we show compassion for ourselves as well.
Compassion is not acceptance. If my husband is crying and remorseful after being caught in an affair, I can have compassion for his pain, anger at his choices and grounded in my decision to divorce. Just because I have compassion, does not mean I don’t set limits, take action or protect myself; I just do these things without vilifying the other person.
Compassion is a powerful force when we allow it to lead us. Relationships fail without compassion. Until we can accept the humanity inside each of us, we are destined to take things personally, sit in judgment and reel with anger and resentment. The reality is that good people make bad choices, do bad things and hurt other good people. Because we are human and imperfect, we will continue to hurt, disappoint and make bad choices. Sitting in judgment of these imperfections (both in ourselves and in others) only makes our journey more difficult. Learning to have compassion for our own humanity as well as the humanity of others will lighten our load.
The next time someone doesn’t come through for you in the way that you think they should, remember compassion. Have compassion for their struggle while holding them accountable for their behavior. If you’re blessed, people will do the same for you when your humanity shows up as well.
Challenge: Pay attention to the labels, assumptions and character assassinations you put on people who show up as imperfect. Instead, have compassion for their plight while speaking your truth and holding them accountable when necessary.