(Psst! I’m making this blog post available as a Podcast for the first time ever! Check it out here, if that’s your thing.)
Can I be really brave with you guys in this post?
This message has been growing in my heart over the past few months, but I’m nervous to share it with you. I’m afraid that the fact that I’ve struggled so hard with this stuff will reflect poorly on me. I’m afraid of getting this message wrong, or that no one will find these topics as moving and powerful as I do.
But here’s the thing: I really, truly believe in this message. And I made a commitment to be brave this year, and uniquely myself, and I think this post qualifies.
Here’s my truth:
A few months ago I was explaining to a friend the struggle of growing up INTJ and how I’ve changed (and changed myself) over the years. How embarrassed I was by the things I said and did when I was younger, how hard it was to find a place to fit into the world (and sometimes still is), and how radically my job in human resources influenced my growth.
“I know,” she said. “You told me this, once. Years ago.”
It turns out I have a narrative about myself as someone only recently on the kinder side of things. I guess part of me still feels I’ve only just escaped my old thought patterns. Some part still thinks I have to apologize and preemptively warn people I might slip up and say something completely insensitive, and how hard I’m trying to overcome that.
That blog post I made two years ago discusses the the trials and glories of the INTJ personality type, but I’ve never really explained how I taught myself to evolve beyond the more negative aspects.
In the current political climate I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this: How does one move past judgmental, detached thinking into empathetic, compassionate thinking?
I want to use this blog post to explain how it happened for me, and condense the years of wisdom I’ve accumulated on these topics to hopefully help someone else who wants to change, but doesn’t know how.
But listen, another (terrified) part of me thinks you might read this and go, “Wow, what a freak. Was it really so difficult for you to like and get along with people like, you know, an ordinary human being?”
Have I not made that clear by now? Yes.
If making friends and just generally interacting with people was easy for you from the start, I’m very glad for you. It wasn’t like that for me. My introversion, my social anxiety, my neurotic logical floundering… I was just built and grew up in a way that made people-stuff hard. And because of that, I’ve had to study and practice and dig to get at the heart of what people-stuff is all about, and how I could bring myself more into the fold.
Here’s what I found:
You must find the Love
I don’t mean romantic love. I mean platonic, compassionate love. Love for people, and humanity.
I knew love was important. Jesus talks a lot about love–love thy neighbor, love they enemy, etc., and I wanted to be a good representative of my faith, but that all felt pretty abstract to me. People were gross and weird. People made me feel bad. People were to be avoided. How on earth was I supposed to love people when they made my life more difficult?
I had to figure out a way to love them. But how?
Patience is Love
One of the first lessons that taught me compassion was this quote:
Patience with others is Love
Patience with self is Hope
Patience with God is Faith
I remember how those words rocked me. A huge part of my personality was impatience. I wanted everything to happen now now now. I couldn’t stand interacting with others because nobody wants to get to the point. My information-focused brain would have preferred if people interaction was transactional: no greetings, no small talk, just the shortest conversation necessary to transfer information as fast as possible.
But when I realized that a huge key to loving people was being patient with them, my whole perspective changed. I forced myself to slow down in conversations. To prioritize listening over talking. To make room for people to talk to me. No multi-tasking. No letting my thoughts wander off. No giving off physical clues that I was in a hurry, or really didn’t want to be doing this.
Eye contact. Slight smile. Keeping my mouth shut. Nodding. Sympathetic noises. Focusing.
No, it doesn’t come naturally. Yes, it’s a concentrated effort every time. But now it’s a habit, easier and more natural the more I do it.
Being with the Pain
I think I learned this one, funnily enough, from Eat, Pray, Love, by the inimitable Liz Gilbert, whom I adore (seriously, all of her podcast interviews are so wise and inspiring, especially her own free podcast, Magic Lessons).
When Liz was in the ashram in India studying meditation, one of the lessons she had to learn was being with her body. During meditation, if her nose itched, she wouldn’t itch it. She would simply be with the sensations, observing them. Not letting her body’s impulse to scratch itself rule over her mental focus.
The thought was revolutionary to me, and I’ve used it several times over the years for various pain in my body, and even pain in my heart (not chronic or serious pain — definitely not saying you should ignore pain like that or simply live with it). Sitting and being with the sensations, observing them, confident in the knowledge that this moment will pass, and I don’t have to let these sensations control me.
It’s a powerful tactic for low-grade annoyances, and I threw myself into the just being with mantra for uncomfortable social situations.
You don’t like having to wait for this person’s rambling backstory to get to the point you know they’re going to make so you can give them the information they need? Too bad, just be with it. Give them the gift of your attention, because THAT is what makes a difference in people’s lives.
I’ll say it again:
Give people the gift of your attention.
When you show patience, you show love.
Find the Beauty
It’s so easy to love things we think are beautiful. That’s why people possessing what is commonly perceived as physical beauty are often treated differently (read: better).
However, beauty is also in the eye of the beholder.
Let me tell you something: I think my husband Chris is the most handsome man in the world. I would pick his looks over any single celebrity or model out there, alive or dead. He would be on the cover of People’s Sexiest Man Alive every year if it were up to me.
Now, objectively, is Chris the hottest guy in the world? Probably not. But I truly have no idea if that’s so. He’s the hottest guy in the world to me. I love him so much I think everything about him is beautiful.
If you take the time, if you express the patience, to find the beauty in someone, you will come to love them, even just a tiny bit. But to do this you must evolve beyond the notion that beauty is physical, or objective. You must be willing to see a person’s value as it exists in their innate humanity, and not just their physical exterior.
It can be hard. But once you begin to appreciate someone and the external or internal things about them, you will find the love.
Make someone beautiful in your eyes, and you will love them.
Compassion means being able to put yourself in someone’s shoes, and understand how they see the world. It means trusting people, giving them the benefit of the doubt, figuring out why they’d do something the way they did, and forgiving them for it.
There are a few surface tricks and tips to develop compassion, although the true key is in the next section:
- Really listen to people. Don’t assume you know what they’re going to say, or feel.
- Spend time with people different from you. Listen to their worldview and perspective without trying to ‘correct’ it.
- Accept that your opinions and virtues aren’t 100% ‘right’. There are very few things in this world definably ‘right.’ Even segments of the same religion argue over which interpretation of a law is ‘right.’ Be willing to accept gray areas. I’m okay, you’re okay. I’m okay that you’re okay.
- Suspend judgment. Don’t relegate people to one thing. If you find yourself making judgments about people based on just a few words or actions, spend a few moments coming up with various scenarios that might have made that person act that way. Practice this.
Compassion stems from Gratitude
Last summer I got really into the Lewis Howes podcast and listened to many of the episodes while exercising. It feels weird to share this with you guys because in terms of mentors or spiritual leaders Lewis isn’t really my ‘type.’ Many of his podcasts are focused on financial success, and the relationship between sales and fame to a certain extent, the tone of which makes me feel a little squicky inside (I’m so not a sales person). I have some deep reservations about philosophies that sound similar to The Secret, but I also found some amazing insight and wisdom in certain episodes, including this little gem:
Compassion stems from gratitude. If you want to develop your sense of compassion, you must develop your sense of gratitude.
The reason I love this is because not only do I think it’s true, but it surprised me with how counter-intuitive it is. You mean that in order to focus better on other people I have to focus on myself first?
But gratitude isn’t precisely a focus on the self. It is an acknowledgement, instead, of the countless gifts we have in our lives, so many of which are easy to overlook during the day-to-day shuffle. We become blind to our privileges if we don’t take the time to acknowledge and appreciate them. Not only does this increase our enjoyment of our own lives, but it opens our eyes to the situations of others, and all the privileges we have that they might not.
Gratitude is humbling. And I think humility is another pillar of compassion. Entitlement will smother your compassion. Entitlement separates you from others, while compassion brings you closer together. We must dismantle entitlement, by acknowledging our privilege and showing gratitude for all the miracles we enjoy every day.
If you need help getting started, Lewis Howes has a great little 8 minute pep talk on finding and practicing gratitude.
Something else you might try is partnering with a Gratitude Buddy and email or text each other 3 things you are grateful for that day. It’s a simple, easy reminder to be looking at the world with grateful eyes.
The huge wall of text above condenses down into these three takeaways:
- Find the beauty and you’ll find the love
- Demonstrate love through patience
- Practice gratitude to grow compassion
I try to follow this, but of course I’m not perfect, and you won’t be either. I still slip up and get insensitive, or judgy, or impatient. I still act entitled, and write people off. But I’m much better than I used to be.
Growth takes time, and energy. But you can change your nature, or your bad habits, if you really want to.
Finally, I want to share with you another conclusion I’ve come to in the past year: The reason we are here is to connect with one another. I think that’s the nature of our humanity. Or it is for me, at least.
I hope this post brings some connections to your life.