A World of Problems

by Christopher Lovejoy on May 13, 2012

For some, compassion is absolutely central to who they are.

For others, compassion occupies the outskirts of everything they say and do.

For still others, compassion lies below the radar that would detect hints of pain and suffering.

I can feel compassion, yet do nothing; I can act with compassion, yet leave it at that; or I can apply it consistently, with some one or some group, in the realm of heroic martyrdom.

The basic recipe for extending compassion is quite easy to remember: mix one helping of empathetic concern with one impulse to provide support and apply this mixture generously, with prudence.

Acts of compassion in this world, however, are relatively few and far between: so many are driven to avoid pain; to minimize fear, guilt, and shame; to save face and gamely stay the course.

If these motives could speak, they might say, in the parlance of modernity: “I don’t have time for you and your suffering; if you need help, make an appointment to see someone who can help you.”

As we lower our shields, growing in our capacity to reach out compassionately, we become ever more aware of a desire to apply compassion without attachment to having any particular outcome.

As our circles of compassion expand and deepen, we make contact with ever more layers of concern that extend beyond ourselves, from one to some to many, from family to culture to creation.

As we connect more vulnerably with one another, we eventually meet up with a kindness that looks a whole lot like weakness – a sacred space that would have us replenish loving, refreshing concern.

Tenderness is the face of this space – not unlike the texture of tanned leather.

Humanity: Hopelessly Mired in Misery?

At one time, I entertained the notion that humanity is a deeply and profoundly flawed creation.

I now see truth in viewing humanity as a species whose members are being carried, if not coaxed, through a difficult process of evolution involving body, mind, heart, soul, and spirit.

From accounts of near-death experience, much has been said about the reason why humans walk the earth at this time: wake up to the power of love, light up the love with wisdom.

In other words, wake up to lighten up.

To say that human beings are here just to love ignores the skillful means required to handle the many faces of anger and to express anger in ways that safeguard healthy boundaries.

What I’m about to share with you may seem excessive, but my aim here is to make it clear just how deeply and utterly humanity has failed in its evolution as a species worthy of love.

Skim the lists if you must, or just read a few items from each list, but I would encourage you to read them slowly enough to make a note of those items that trigger an emotional charge.

These charges hold clues to wounds, which call out for healing.

Without further adieu, here are the lists. Someone somewhere …

abuses …

  • is intimidating someone, spoiling for a confrontation
  • is persecuting someone for something said or done
  • is threatening someone with physical or emotional violence
  • is violating someone’s boundaries, reactively or deliberately
  • is fighting or assaulting someone, verbally or physically
  • is perpetuating a pattern of verbal or physical abuse
  • is ignoring, dismissing, or neglecting someone’s needs

avoids …

  • is insisting on solitude and independence to an inordinate degree
  • is shifting rapidly from emotion to emotion, appearing shallow
  • is shying away from the responsibilities of an intimate relationship
  • is turning away from a new interpersonal situation because of feelings of inadequacy
  • is turning away from a new interpersonal situation because of feelings of paranoia
  • is avoiding an activity that requires significant interaction with others
  • is steering clear of a situation where being the center of attention is called for
  • is steering clear of a situation where being the center of attention is not called for

deceives …

  • is repeatedly cheating, conning, or lying to someone
  • is using an alias to cheat another for personal profit or pleasure
  • is conning another out of money, possessions, or advantages
  • is telling a lie to gain an advantage or to shirk responsibility

deludes …

  • is pretending all is well in the name of love and compassion
  • is believing that he or she is inferior (or superior) to others
  • is thinking that others are trying to do harm in the absence of any evidence
  • is convinced that cryptic messages are being hidden in a public speech or display
  • is fantasizing constantly about being powerful, successful, and attractive
  • is appearing fake and shallow to others
  • is exaggerating achievements and talents
  • is expecting constant praise and admiration
  • is exhibiting a style of speech that is excessively impressionistic and lacking in detail
  • is expressing disdain for those he or she feels are inferior (or superior)
  • is demonstrating impulsivity and a failure to consider consequences
  • is making a rash decision to act before thinking things through
  • is skipping from task to task or project to project without completing the first one
  • is engaged in magical thinking, believing that people or events can be influenced by thought alone
  • is commanding others to go along with his or her ideas and plans
  • is relating to someone more intimately than what can be justified

exploits …

  • is shamelessly taking advantage of another
  • is indulging a chronic need for instant gratification
  • is switching emotions fast to exploit the vulnerability of others
  • is excessively dependent on others to satisfy a strong need to be taken care of
  • is starting yet another relationship as soon as one had ended
  • is using physical appearance to draw attention to themselves
  • is having reckless disregard for right and wrong – and for the safety of self or others
  • is failing to sustain consistent work behavior or to honor a financial obligation
  • is lacking remorse, rationalizing (or being indifferent to) having hurt or mistreated another
  • is failing to conform to a reasonable social norm for lawful behavior
  • is deliberately doing something that is grounds for arrest

inhibits …

  • is appearing emotionally detached
  • is appearing unusually brittle or fragile
  • is appearing dull or indifferent to others
  • is displaying flat emotion or giving an inappropriate emotional response
  • is being utterly indifferent to another
  • is appearing tough-minded or unemotional
  • is fearfully foregoing an opportunity to lead or be a leader
  • is being unusually suspicious and mistrustful of another in the absence of provocation
  • is typically viewing him or herself as socially inept or personally unappealing
  • is reluctant to take a risk or engage in a new activity because it might prove embarrassing
  • is showing restraint within an intimate relationship out of a fear of being shamed or ridiculed
  • is unwilling to get involved with another unless certain of being liked
  • is being tolerant of poor or abusive treatment
  • is being swayed by a tendency to stay in an abusive relationship
  • is isolating him or herself socially or emotionally
  • is displaying timidity or extreme shyness in a social situation

manipulates …

  • is using charm or wit to curry favor and get his or her way
  • is using any and all means to gain and/or keep attention or approval
  • is threatening suicide or destruction for attention

obsesses …

  • is preoccupied with following the rules
  • is obsessed with remaining clean, neat, and orderly
  • is subjecting him or herself to extreme perfectionism in appearance, behavior, and/or conduct
  • is obsessed with physical appearance
  • is preoccupied with being criticised, disliked, or rejected in a social situation
  • is unable to discard a broken or worthless object
  • is appearing inflexible in his or her thinking, conduct, or behavior

seduces …

  • is being frequently provocative in dress, thinking, beliefs, or behavior
  • is being unusually sexual, provocative, and inappropriate in his or her conduct
  • is using seductive behavior to manipulate another into compliance

struggles …

  • is irritable, agitated, or aggressive (yet again)
  • is being peculiar in dress, thinking, beliefs, or behavior
  • is having difficulty making or keeping a friend
  • is starting or tolerating yet another stormy relationship
  • is having trouble maintaining healthy boundaries in a relationship
  • is showing too little or too much desire for sex
  • is feeling compelled to be in control of every situation
  • is being unusually dominant or submissive without the consent of another
  • is pursuing a wildly unrealistic or unreasonable goal
  • is being overly dramatic and exaggerated in the expression of an emotion
  • is acting as if he or she is in a performance before an audience, and yet appears as insincere
  • is experiencing a blurred sense of identity or a dissociative fugue or amnesia
  • is failing to recognize or empathize with another person’s interests or concerns
  • is perceiving the people and things around him or her as distorted and unreal (derealization)
  • is feeling unable to respond to normal social cues in a social setting
  • is being unusually suggestible and/or gullible
  • is having difficulty raising his or her threshold for frustration

suffers …

  • is afraid to be alone
  • is feeling caught inside a vortex of apathy
  • is looking for constant reassurance or approval from another
  • is being easily hurt and rejected
  • is being moody and unpredictable
  • is being hypersensitive to criticism, disapproval, or rejection
  • is suffering from memory loss of a certain time period, event, or person
  • is experiencing depersonalization – a sense of being detached from him or herself
  • is feeling resigned to having depression or anxiety
  • is feeling unusually or frequently jealous of another

By no means exhaustive, these listings are fairly representative of a deeply wounded, profoundly burdened and challenged humanity in a world that seems to have forgotten how to care.

Please feel free to add to these lists, to tweak them to your satisfaction, to use them for your growth and development, or to gain perspective on where you feel you need adjustment or discernment.

In our interactions, many of these shortcomings can appear fleeting. Even if entrenched, some of them can be placed inside a crucible of care and given sanctuary with the aim of transformation.

This commitment to healing might even depend on the presence of a supportive social environment. Absent this supportive care and concern, some of these tendencies will continue indefinitely.

In light of these follies and flaws, I’m still inclined to believe that humanity can learn to bring together nature, culture, and technology in ways that support the realization of everyone’s potential.

Mere Communication or True Communication?

Reading these lists might prompt you to minimize them, to shrug them off, to suppress your feelings about them, to distract yourself from them so that they have no time to sink into the heart of your soul.

I am by no means perfect. If I were, I would in all likelihood not be here (in this world).

As I peruse these lists, I know where I fall short, and I remain open to applying appropriate remedies for myself. By exposing my dark spots, they become merely weak rather than blind.

As you read each item in these lists, you might think: “I’m glad that’s not me.” You might think: “hmm, I wonder if I’m like that.” You might think: “I know someone like that.” You might think: “Okay, I have this tendency, but so what?” You might think: “Does humanity even stand a chance?”

Separate and exclude. Separate and exclude. Separate and exclude. Instinctively, human beings have been doing this for a very long time. Thankfully, they’re starting to wake up to the consequences.

We’ve heard it said: “be the change you wish to see.”

But I much prefer: “be the person you wish to meet.”

We all have our dark spots, we all raise defenses without even being aware of them, and I’m willing to believe that many if not most of us harbor fear, doubt, guilt, regret, or shame somewhere inside the recesses of our souls.

Our intentions can all too easily be waylaid by the black holes that lurk inside the heart of the soul.

Our souls, content with letting it be, offend our spirits, intent on making it so – and vice versa: our spirits, intent on making it so, offend our souls, content with letting it be as it is, where it is.

This natural, normal paradox of soul and spirit compels us to think, to feel, to speak, to act, to know, and I dare say this compulsion makes listening – really and truly listening – difficult, if not impossible.

A healthy, vital, vigorous drive to accomplish a task and fulfill a desire is one thing, but any compulsion to be, have, say, or do anything confesses a lack or loss of spiritual freedom.

Such a compulsion can all too easily be rationalized and justified by the fact that someone somewhere caused you or your loved ones serious and significant pain, hurt, or harm – even death.

In this light, someone somewhere gave up the responsibility to truly communicate.

Mere communication, where everyone is talking at each other, presumes separation and exclusion, competition and domination – a childish presumption that peeps thus: “me big, you small”.

True communication takes the time to speak and listen, to share and care, to think and feel together, without necessarily accepting what either party has to say in any exchange of thought and feeling. True communication implies the art of listening, which involves a quality of attention that contains a sense of having insight as you go along, from beginning to end.

I think most of us understand and appreciate this. Putting it into practice, however …

To embrace such an ideal, humanity is licking its emotional wounds, of which there are many, and to realize such an ideal, humanity is learning to communicate truly and cooperate in its own healing.

In a world of problems, humanity is beginning to wake up, going beyond competition and compulsion to make room for respectful care and compassion, with true communication, in a spirit of cooperation.

Whether this is a case of too little, too late remains to be seen.


This post is the sixteenth in a series that began here.

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