Compassion in the face of failure


No. 52
Posted on 9/4/2017 by Mark Hutchinson
"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence."
- Hanlon’s razor

"As I get older, the more I stay focused on the acceptance of myself and others, and choose compassion over judgment and curiosity over fear."
- Tracee Ellis Ross


Have you ever given some thought to how you respond when you discover that the cheeseburger and fries you thought you picked up at the drive-through ended up being a fish sandwich with tartar sauce?

Sure you’re disappointed. Maybe shaking a little. And depending on how much you love cheese, perhaps tears have welled up in your eyes just a bit. Bad things do happen to good people.

Yet I think most people would let that travesty land squarely in the incompetence category. Those folks at the drive-through were not really out to get you. Right?

It does seem like it becomes more difficult to lean that direction when the slight or hurt is coming from someone that we have more than a 30 second relationship with. Did the landscape service guy dump the debris by the side of the house instead of taking it with him because he doesn’t think we’re an important customer? Did your coworker show up late to your meeting because they don’t respect you as a leader? Did your friend not call you on your birthday because they are upset with you? Did the clerk at the grocery store not offer to help you find what you were looking for because they were judging you?

There are countless examples like these that I’m sure you can think of for yourself when you assessed the motivations of the other person as malicious toward you. It isn’t hard to come to this conclusion especially when the lens you are looking through is tinted with pain, difficulty, anger, fear and disappointment. Our internal judgement colors our assessment about the reasons for things that are happening around us. Intellectually we may get that everything isn’t always about us, but that doesn’t consistently translate into how we feel inside.

The first saying today helps us understand the mechanism by which these bad feeling can appear. Maybe we believe that people are actively trying to hurt us when in reality they are most likely absorbed with themselves. The actions we see are a result of their lack of focus, lack of presence, lack of skill, or whatever. Yes, we know, it isn’t always about us.

The second quote speaks more to the way to free ourselves from the unnecessary bad feelings and move forward in our daily lives with less friction. The beauty of this statement is that it starts, naturally, with a focus on our own behavior. By first accepting ourselves – the good, the bad and the ugly, we can turn down the volume on our trigger-happy, judgmental mindset. After that we it become easier to extend that feeling of compassion both ourselves and then to those around us. Then when people fail to meet our expectations, this compassion help us to understand that they also have tremendous pressures, difficulties, and pain to process. It is their own stuff that is probable keeping them from being their best when interacting with us, not an active desire to foul up our day.

When we learn to cut ourselves some slack, we will gain the ability to cut others some slack.

Everyone fails sometimes. Everyone gets angry, sad, distracted, etc. Even you.

In the immortal words of the Carpenters: “oh why do we go on hurting each other?” Why indeed.

It probably wasn’t on purpose.

Have a great week!

~ Mark
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