When I came into recovery, I did not know how much I lacked compassion for other people. I was full of judgement. I saw others as “less than” and framed the world in nice tidy compartments. Drug addicts were bad people — it never occurred to me that alcohol is a drug. Homeless people must have done something to end up in their situation, and it was probably due to bad choices. People with less education than myself were stupid. I framed the world in terms of “otherness.”
I quickly learned that I wasn’t so different from these “other” people. My addiction to alcohol was just as debilitating as another’s addiction to heroin or cocaine. Yes, people who were homeless may have made “bad” decisions, but those decisions were often the result of an addiction or a mental illness. Less educated people in the rooms had some might good suggestions for me. How could I call these people stupid if they had such smart suggestions?
What I came to understand is that we are all human. We share a common struggle that is called life. None of us are any “better” than anyone else on this earth. We all have the same needs – food, shelter, love, and respect.
So often, we fail each other.
Perhaps this is because we stack rank the needs in the wrong light. Perhaps, what we really need in this world is more respect and love for each other. Sure, food and shelter are essential to survival, but are they more essential than love and respect? I’m not so sure.
I’m writing from my hotel room in London, UK this morning. I’m reflecting on conversations that I’ve had with friends in the UK regarding Brexit and the transition of power in the UK that’s been happening while I’m here. We’ve also had conversations about the American election cycle. I am astounded at the similarities between the national psyche’s of the two nations.
And, I’m also thinking about Nice, France this morning. Being here, I got the news much quicker than it came out at home. In fact, it was a full 2–3 hours after the news hit the local wires that it came in on the NYTimes sites. That seems strange in 2016 — when we have instant technologies and news travels fast.
I’m thinking about the last seven months. 2016 has been a year of enormous tragedy. We’ve lost great artists. We’ve suffered terrible terrorist attacks all around the world. We’ve struggled to find footing in an unsure world. Politicians and the media have certainly exploited the fear and uncertainty that exists — fomenting more fear and uncertainty.
The politicians and the media frame the world as “us versus them.” It sells and it wins votes. Simple as that.
But this “us versus them” mentality has it’s consequences. When we focus on the differences rather than the similarities, when see others as less than, or evil, that world view diminishes respect for the humanness of the “other.” When we lose respect for others as people, fundamentally the same as ourselves, we can more easily hate. And when we disrespect and hate, it’s much easier to destroy.
So much of what’s happening in the world today results directly from this “us versus them” world view. So much of the pain and agony we feel as a human race results from a lack of love and disrespect. There must be a better way.
Not long ago, I truly believed that respect is something to be earned. I was wrong. Every human being is worthy of and deserves my respect, just because they are human.
I can tell you from my own experience, that when we drop the labels and see people for what they are — fundamentally human and flawed just as we are — then we can find compassion in our hearts. And when we find compassion in our hearts our world view changes. We suddenly see that the pain we feel is not unique. We suddenly see that we are all in this together. We are one humanity sharing a common struggle.
When we find compassion for each other, that struggle is easier and it’s far more difficult to disrespect and hate others. We need more compassion in this world. Ask yourself what you’ll do today to find more compassion in your life. Then, go out and seek it. Good things will come to you when you are living with a compassionate heart.