Who do you think of when you read the words ‘broken people’? Do your thoughts ever include yourself? Do you feel empathy, sympathy, compassion, disgust, aversion? I would like to discuss the unique variants of brokenness, and how we as people and society as a whole react.
Did you think of addicts, homeless people, maybe those with some definitions of mental instability as broken people? I did. And my emotional reactions were all across the spectrum, some I’m not at all proud of feeling! I even went to the dictionary and looked up definitions for words like addict, empathy, sympathy, compassion… I realized I don’t live in a dictionary and every definition fit someplace within my perceptions, but not others. So I would like to know what you think, I would like to turn this issue over in my mind, take it out to examine it and see if I can grow in understanding.
Addict. It’s one of the thoughts that came into my mind when I wondered about ‘broken people.’ Is this person addicted to alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription drugs, or maybe coffee? Should it make a difference? If I am approached on the street by a homeless woman asking if I can help, how do I react? Do I automatically start putting restrictions on what help I might offer, or my ability to be compassionate? Do I wonder if this homeless person is an addict, if giving money will help her continue her addiction? And haven’t I already decided what the word ‘addict’ means to me!? Yes, and it had nothing to do with coffee. I feel differently depending on what choices another person has made, I react differently. I want to learn how to not do that!
Maybe I need to examine how I define the word compassion. After much thought I’ve decided compassion is accepting each person for who they are. This is totally different than empathy which is responding to a person’s emotions and opinions with similar emotions and opinions. It’s also totally different than sympathy which means feeling sorry or regretful for another’s suffering.
If I am acting out of compassion I won’t sit in judgment of this homeless woman, but will accept her for who she is. Whether she spends money I might give her on McDonald’s, drugs, or the medical bills that may be the reason she is homeless, doesn’t really matter. Is it not her right as a human being to make her own choices? For sure I won’t be accountable for her choices, but she will be. I don’t get to decide what is a poor choice or what would be a better choice for her — not if I accept her for who she is, accept the fact that she has the right to her own choices, and agree to honor that right for everyone.
I think the person I want to be would be compassionate to all who suffer, and try to cultivate a loving attitude to everyone else—even those who don’t. I am not the person I want to be!
How do I cultivate compassion for privileged people who remain oblivious to the consequences their self-centeredness visits upon others? How on earth do I offer compassion to someone who regards him/herself as superior and who feels no discomfort on account of being oblivious? I’m personally going to have the hardest time with those unable to recognize happenstance may be the only difference between them and anyone else, particularly someone less fortunate.
Aren’t we all “broken” to some degree or other (certainly, myself!) And I need to try harder to interact with others with compassion for their unique variant of brokenness. I have found that many people’s “addiction” is to a state of denial that they are broken at all. This addiction is no less vicious than alcoholism or drug addiction, and, like those addictions, is rarely willingly abandoned. Continue reading