When I was ten or so, I heard a story that still sticks with me.
A man was on a plane, flying home after traveling all week for work. Utterly exhausted, he hoped to get a couple of hours sleep before returning to his family. Just as he was nodding off, two little girls seated behind him started screeching. The girls began roaming the aisles, making noise, causing general chaos. The man noticed a woman sitting behind him, the girls’ mother. She stared vacantly out the window, paying zero attention to her children. Fuming the entire flight, the man didn’t sleep a wink
When they finally deplaned, the man confronted the woman. “There are other passengers on this plane, you know. It’s incredibly rude to let your kids run wild!”
The woman looked startled, as if waking from a dream. “You’re right. I am so sorry,” she said, her eyes tearing up. “We just buried the girl’s father this morning, and I’m just not myself right now . . .”
Recognizing Human Connection
It’s easy to take life personally. People do things. They get in your way, they intrude in your space. When I feel annoyed with someone, I often remember the story of the mother on the plane. I remind myself that I don’t know what someone has had to deal with that day, that week, that year, that decade. By extending compassion to others, you extend compassion to yourself. Human suffering can be so immense, it’s easy to close your heart to others, to reflexively dismiss certain people as rotten apples. But have others sometimes unfairly dismissed you? Can you at least remain open to the idea that the person with the screaming kids is doing her best? To consider that others are doing their best is to consider that you are doing your best.
Compassion doesn’t mean pitying or feeling sorry for someone. It means recognizing that we’re all in the same boat, that we all deal with unexpected twists and turns in our lives. When you summarily judge someone, you cut yourself off from the organic flow of life. When you see yourself in others, and when you see others in yourself, you are nurturing the natural connection among all human beings. Compassion teaches self-awareness, and increased self-awareness is the fundamental key to getting what you want out of life.