Offering the Benefits of Compassion
Shortly after our eldest daughter turned sixteen, I suggested that my husband take her on her first date. Accordingly, he extended an invitation to her and made a reservation at a very nice restaurant. On the appointed evening, they dressed up and drove through the canyon, enjoying the show of autumn leaves on their way to the restaurant.
It was a beautiful experience for them both. Not only did our daughter feel special, but she was comfortable enough to express ideas and feelings with her Dad that he had never heard. Their relationship has permanently benefited from their having shared that time together.
Sadly, the way they spent the evening probably ruined another couple’s special date. Across the room sat a woman who was apparently angry to see them so freely enjoying their visit. She repeatedly made heated remarks to her husband and shot glaring looks at my husband and daughter that seemed aimed to inflict mortal wounds! After a while, my husband realized that the woman considered that his “date” was “young enough to be his daughter!” When my daughter noticed the problem, they shared a chuckle about the mistaken assumptions of Some People, then put it behind them and continued their conversation.
I was not there, but this experience has replayed itself many times over in my mind. I have considered myself on both sides of the situation and have pondered ways to become the kind of person who makes the world better by offering kindness instead of harsh judgments. I believe the life of each person makes a difference, even through the seemingly harmless ways we view situations, circumstances and happenstance. Whether life looks — and becomes — bleak or lovely is largely a function of how we choose to focus our perspective on life.
Seek to see clearly. The woman across the room saw some facts, but she was blind to others. While she may have seen their relative ages, she seemed to have missed how closely my daughter resembles her father. She may have noticed that they were comfortable and happy together, but she failed to note the lack of romantic involvement in their behavior. Sometimes seeing means opening our eyes to observe; sometimes it has to do with making connections in our thinking; sometimes, as when we read or go out into the bright sun, seeing clearly requires viewing things through the appropriate lenses.
Perceive that misery serves no one well. Once, when this story was recounted, someone commented about the poor woman who probably went home miserable about the sick condition of the world. “It served her right!” responded another listener. This heated response to the story served the listener — and everyone else — wrong. Despite the money that was spent and everything that was done to make the evening wonderful, the date and its memory was tainted for all. But being hard on the stranger who presumed evil will not recover the beauty of the evening. The best experiences come as each person seeks to understand and freely love others, whether or not we think their actions merit our acceptance.
Offer the benefit of your compassion. I have never liked the idea of “the benefit of doubt.” The phrase confused me as a child and I still consider that doubt belongs with fear rather than with love. Instead, we can choose to offer one another the benefits of our compassion, whether we feel it is deserved or not. Because compassion is a reflection of the heart of the giver, rather than a function of the situation, we can offer this compassion even when we feel some doubt about a situation before us.
View misunderstandings as opportunities to extend compassion. Had any of the players in the story offered true compassion, the situation could have resolved itself happily for all. A compassionate waiter could have changed the seating arrangements for the offended couple once he perceived their discomfort. Compassion could have been graciously offered by the woman, even if all she could muster was pity for the “desperate girl” who was flattered by “attentions from an older man.” Compassion, quietly offered by my husband and/or daughter in the form of a message sent through the waiter, could have eased the woman’s mind and sent her home with renewed appreciation for thoughtful, loving fathers. And just imagine the happy returns that could have been realized in the lives of all if my husband had thought to invest in a complementary dessert and an apology for the offense that they had unintentionally given!
Use hindsight to fuel insight — and foresight. I recognize that I was not a principal in the above story and that it seems easy enough for me to ruminate on possible solutions to a past problem. But pondering on the past helps us to see what may be done in some future moment, when we are more “on the spot.” Such pondering helps us to remove our pride from our circumstances, so we can more clearly use the appropriate lenses through which we choose to view our world. This, in turn, can help us become more fully proactive in seeking compassionate solutions in difficult situations. As we are able to freely offer compassion, the world looks better — because we are making it a more beautiful place for everyone.
©2011 Daunell Clarke/www.houseoforder.com
Photos from sxc.hu. Artists include loleia, hirekatsu, savensail, Dominic Morel, Rotorhead, & johnnyberg. Used with permission.