Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Compassion Fatigue

I am truly humbled by the trust that people have in me. It is not unusual for individuals to email me or even come see me about issues in their personal or professional lives. They often ask for my opinion. It is always with a little fear and lots of faith that I respond to them. I am not a professional anything. I can only hope that whatever words I write or speak to them are the words of comfort or encouragement they need or, at the very least, an objective view of the situation as it's presented to me. I am not sure why people trust me so much or why my words are valued by them. It is always with some trepidation that I write or speak at all. Of course, it's not important that I see in myself what others see in me. At the same time I am not unaware of people's attitude about me. I believe all of us has some kind of gift. Words, whether they are spoken or written, seem to be my gift. Everyone knows I love musicians. My next door neighbor is a musician. Once after talking about music he said, "Wow! You must be a frustrated musician"! I know what he meant. Often when people love something, they are frustrated they can't do it themselves. That's how I am with music. Some musicians become skilled through lots and lots of practice. Others are simply born with it. Yes, they still practice but they start from a great launching pad. I think I can say the same thing about words and me. I don't really practice writing although I sometimes labor over the choice of words like a musician searching for the perfect chord. Somehow I seem to have a gift for writing and speaking and it's just there. I can't explain how or why I have the gift. Like all gifts it is more for others than for myself. If anything I write or speak benefits or comforts another, I am happy and it is a good day for me. A gift comes with responsibility. The responsibility of my gift is my words must be honest and worthy of other's trust. I take that responsibility very seriously.

In spite of my gift and other's trust in me.......

I occasionally experience what I call compassion fatigue. This is a condition caused by the desire to care about everyone and everything but often being overwhelmed by the magnitude of such caring. There is so much pain and suffering in the world. There are so many people with real and serious problems as well as the many people in our lives who believe their issues are major even when they are not. Whether problems and pain are real or imagined, people need and want compassion. How does one genuinely care about everyone and everything? Even Jesus was overwhelmed at times. Buddha says that all of life is suffering. I read last night that in the Lotus Sutra, Buddha says, "To shine up one corner, not the whole world. Just make it clear where you are". I think it was Mohammad who said, "Just deal with whatever is in front of you". I think what all these great teachers are telling us is that you can't fix everything. Deep in our hearts, beyond what we can physically do, I think it is possible to have a global and universal sense of true compassion. On a practical level, our compassion must express itself in ways that are sometimes small but no less authentic. We are all the center of our own circles and all of our circles overlap. I believe what we are called to do is reach out within the circles we inhabit, and further if we can, to touch those in our lives who need healing, compassion, and a word of encouragement. For most of us our circles include our families, our workplaces, our churches, and our neighborhoods. Sometimes we are blessed, as I am, to be able to reach beyond our circles with such things as the written word. The words of my daily thoughts extend far beyond my grasp. This makes me think of another's words whose name I cannot recall. This wise person said, "If every person swept his own doorstep, the entire world would be clean". The same would be true if each person practiced love, compassion, and kindness within the circle of their lives. Love, compassion, and kindness would ripple through our world the way a single stone can cause ripples to cross a lake or a pond. It really is that simple although it is also difficult. Unfortunately we have too many people in the world who spread hate, fear and greed. Good people, wherever they are, must overwhelm evil and suffering one act at a time with goodness and compassion.

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