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January 21, 2019

Balancing Compassion in an Unbalanced World

Where is the balance in this world? It’s easy to feel that there isn’t any these days. For me, I struggle the most with balancing compassion. There is so much sorrow in this world, some beyond our control, some self-inflicted. I feel privileged to have a warm home, more than enough food, and a healthy body to carry me from here to there. But often I feel guilty for this life I have. I’ve worked hard for it, but I want to help those in need and who aren’t as lucky as I have been.

The saying goes you cannot help those who won’t help themselves. You cannot save those who don’t want to be saved.

I recently walked by a group of homeless people as I was headed home from a day packed with food and festivities. They all were clothed, had on shoes, hats, gloves. None looked emaciated, but it was still heartbreaking. Some were talking to themselves, some were talking to each other, some were smoking cigarettes, and some were sleeping on a pile of dirty blankets.

I was carrying a backpack full of leftovers from my 2nd meal of the day with friends. I very well could have shared some. It would have taken 3 minutes out of my day to open my pack and hand out muffins and cookies. But I kept walking. My heart broke again.

I struggled with what the answers were. Would it really help if I gave these homeless people the food in my backpack? Would they actually appreciate it? Or would they prefer me to give them money so they could go buy more cigarettes?

Be the change, they say. But will my effort here really change anything? I started to tear up feeling guilty and selfish. After much contemplation, I discovered that I truly believe my efforts there would not change a thing. Then I started thinking about where the change starts. What effort do we as human beings need to put forth to actually make a change? How can we help make this world a better place, and help ease the suffering that seems to be ever-present?

The Serenity Prayer tells us to accept the things we cannot change. But how do you know the difference between putting up blinders, or accepting that you cannot change an outcome of someone’s life?

Maybe it’s not about trying to save those who don’t want to be saved, or about trying to save those who don’t think that they are worthy of being saved. Maybe it’s about being a positive influence in whatever way that you can. That might mean instead of trying to change someone who you deem as in need, effort is better spent on those that have an open mind and are looking for something or someone to help them make better choices.

This might sound cold and heartless because there are so many people in need. But many of these people in need we are unable to influence, no matter how hard we try.

This is not to say that one person does not matter. That’s not what I’m saying at all. Sometimes we have to come to the realization that what we have to give is not going to be received. And if we spend all our time trying to figure out why these people won’t take this gift while trying to force it upon them, we may be missing out on so many other opportunities to help, support, and encourage other people that are reaching towards us with their arms wide open. How terrible to think that our backs are turned to those who are seeking, as we are arguing with the ones not ready to accept.

Too often we get so focused on what isn’t working and what we can’t do that we fail to see everything we can offer, and what will work that is just within reach. Then we feel like we have failed, and wallow in our own sorrow instead of looking for other ways that we can succeed.

I think that before every problem there is an answer. Although we are taught from childhood to only solve the problem once we have it. We are not taught to be the solution before the problem exists.

There are always going to be situations out of our control that bring us to where we are at this point in time. Sometimes we are born into a family that makes us privileged beyond others, or into a family that has for generations had nothing. Maybe you lost everything you’ve ever had in one terrifying event and you didn’t know how to handle it, and there you are, on the side of the street, sleeping on a pile of dirty blankets with McDonald’s bags littered all around you.

For those people sometimes all we can give is compassion.

I believe that if you have compassion, listen with empathy, and chose to be a positive influence for those who will receive it, you can change lives for the better. That is where the balance is for me.

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