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Where Compassion is Born

An excerpt from my dialogue with Paul McAleer on our podcast Designing Yourself, Episode #9: Embracing the Suffering (originally aired October 1, 2013), with minimal editing for readability.

The things we don’t like in others are the things we don’t fully understand. It’s a sign we haven’t gone out of our way to develop empathy for the other, to understand their motivations and their attitudes, to better explain their behaviors and the reasoning behind them.

But it also illustrates, for many of us, the things we don’t like about ourselves. What you hate in others is the shadow within yourself. You spot it, you’ve got it. There are so many wise sayings that say this: the discomfort we feel about another person is the inner discomfort we have with ourselves.

There are so many things we all don’t really like about ourselves, and that’s pretty normal. Some of us dislike more things than others. But a lot of times, we’re as unaware about the things we don’t like about ourselves as we are about the things we do.

It takes a tremendous amount of self-awareness to recognize what’s working for you and what isn’t. And that often drives our ability to be open and responsive to what someone else demonstrates and how someone else carries themselves.

When we’ve done a lot of self-reflection and self-development, we come to realize that we’re just like everyone else. We all have our hurdles. We all have places we came from that had their ups and their downs. We’ve all had really big challenges in our lives of different flavors. But in the end we’re all here to better ourselves, to be the best we can be. Some people may express that in ways we don’t immediately understand. We may think they are lazy, they are a waste of space, they are not contributing to society. That’s what we see.

But it’s amazing how when we get to know people better, we can better understand their perspective and the way they’re trying to design their life so that they can achieve what they consider to be most important within this short period of time we’re given on Earth.

It requires a tremendous amount of looking inside ourselves before we’re able to be open and look inside of other people and accept what we find there. Self-compassion, unlike self-awareness, isn’t just seeing what’s inside of us — but accepting it and saying:

You know what? That’s a part of me and it’s all good. That’s who I am. This is not negative and positive, bad or good. It’s just me, and I’m going to work with it and I’m going to embrace it.

That allows us to do the same for others. I think that it’s when we expect ourselves to be perfect, and we believe that other people want us to be perfect, that we tend to expect perfection from others.

And that gets in the way of us being truly kind and giving and available for other people, because no one is perfect. We certainly aren’t. We can’t expect other people to be. If we have those unreasonable standards for ourselves, we allow that inner critic to keep yapping, yapping, yapping inside our heads and not put it in its place and not recognize that that isn’t who we really are — it’s just the result of some bad conditioning, wherever that may have come from. But if we put it aside and allow ourselves to really just be who we are, whatever that is, and live with it and work with it and embrace it and enjoy it, it becomes a lot easier to accept other people for who they really are, too.

I’ve found this myself quite a bit. My need to judge other people was something I always hated about myself and I never could figure out how to be less critical. I blamed a lot of other people in my life for making me that way. But only when I stopped being so critical of myself — and it’s taken a long time and I’m still walking down that road — only when I was more loving and gentle with myself did that critical voice inside my head about other people finally dissipate.

An excerpt from my dialogue with Paul McAleer on our podcast Designing Yourself, Episode #9: Embracing the Suffering (originally aired October 1, 2013), with minimal editing for readability.

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  • jessicaldale

    Just listening to this podcast today. Much appreciated. Still amazed by how every episode seems to be exactly what I need to hear at that exact moment. You kept mentioning the word compassion. And what it meant to be compassionate. And to be able to sit with someone, without interrupting their process. Very much reminded me of Brene Brown’s talk on sympathy vs. empathy. Thought you’d like!