"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: anger

nelson mandela . . .

a white amaryllis (in China, white is the color of death, not black)

a white amaryllis (in China, white is the color of death, not black)

It feels odd to be writing two posts in a row with a person’s name as the title. Each passed away this week.

Today, most people know that Nelson Mandela died yesterday at the age of ninety-five. What they might not know is how he lived his dignity and showed it towards others. This trait is one of the outstanding qualities he has imparted to the world for those who witnessed his life. Twenty-seven years he spent incarcerated. Twenty-one years he and Winnie, his first wife, never touched but only spoke through a thick glass partition. When Winnie became somewhat of a firebrand, wearing combat attire and boots, they parted ways. Before and after the divorce, Mandela stayed quiet, not uttering a word of criticism about his former partner and spouse. Then, he fell in love again and married at the age of 80.

The most often asked question of Mandela is why or how he came to bear no spite towards those who fought against him, imprisoned him, betrayed his cause, or plotted against him. He has answered thusly:

“Hating clouds the mind. It gets in the way of strategy. Leaders cannot afford hate.”

I was thinking that we can also decide to lay down garments of hate that enfold us, whether it be towards those we feel have done us wrong, or ourselves when we feel we have not done right towards others up to now.

The answer I like the most about why he wasn’t more angry at his captors and about years spent in prison for more than a quarter of a century is this:

“Why aren’t you more angry?”

“If I thought it would do any good, I would be.”

Nelson Mandela was patient, pragmatic and persevering, serving the good of others rather than his ego. He changed the tide of history with dignity and respect. His wisdom prevailed and without him, Africa and the world might be a very different place today.

He has been called the moral center of Africa. I feel his life serves as a moral fable for us all.

Godspeed, Nelson Mandela. And thank you.

compassion . . .

It seems to me that we hear the word, “compassion” quite often. What does it mean exactly? And how does it work? Here’s what some say:

Compassion is a virtue — one in which the emotional capacities of empathy and sympathy (for the suffering of others) are regarded as a part of love itself, and a cornerstone of greater social interconnection and humanism — foundational to the highest principles in philosophy, society, and personhood.

Sounds pretty important doesn’t it? In our culture, it sometimes takes on religious overtones, at least when I hear the word uttered. Feeling sorry for others is one way to go, I guess, but may also carry patronizing overtones of moral superiority. Maybe the opposite of compassion is to ignore people’s suffering, perhaps because you expect everyone to take care of themselves (Republicans) or because we feel that we have too much suffering of our own already and can’t take on any more. This last thought is enticing, especially since we are living in an economic and psychologically discouraging time. How can we feel sorry for others when we feel inundated with worry and frustration ourselves?

So, let’s take a deep breath. Where are we going anyhow? Perhaps nowhere. Or not very far. Maybe we’ve done what we can in our lives and look around to see how we want to live now. We’ve been working on getting rid of regrets because they’re an anomalous way of feeling sorry for ourselves with imaginings of what might have been–the outcome of which can only be virtual fantasy. Maybe we are feeling overburdened by the problems of others which is outside of our control, but impactive nevertheless.

To have compassion, I think, requires one to be present to someone else’s suffering. Not to try to swipe it aside like windshield wipers flailing away in a rainstorm. I don’t think it’s necessary to try to alleviate it (as in altruism) because just to be present and to accept it is a big deal, it seems to me. So, not cutting and wanting to run and hide in the face of someone’s problems can be an act of compassion, perhaps. Being understanding without feeling like you have to give advice or to “fix it” is a giant step also. I have a lot of trouble not doing this all the time because my project management career in biotech was to catch and fix problems no matter who they belonged to.

On the other side of the coin, being overly cheerful in an effort to make people feel better, I think, is dishonest and a disservice to everyone. Being real and present while maintaining respect toward the other person seems to be as compassionate a way to behave as possible towards someone who is suffering or is unhappy.

While reflecting about compassion, I remembered that family behaviors I observed as a child were laced with anger, resentment and contempt. It’s helpful to notice this history, so that I can avoid falling into those patterns, just because that’s all I knew as normalcy.

If we decide we can be compassionate as described here — not running away, not trying to fix it, showing respect and being present, it might allow us to be born again. At the very least, it might help.