Where Does Compassion Fit?

I really started to learn about compassion when I made a decision to love someone deemed by others to be unworthy of that love. I started to understand the cost of compassion when I was judged on that decision.  When I was going to be loved on the basis of that decision.  Then I knew that compassion is easy when people are nice, animals are cute and cuddly, and when no one’s done anything that might harm us.

When others stand and literally spit at you and call you names, then you start to realise that sometimes compassion has a cost.  Yet I still want to be a human being who has compassion for my fellow beings.  It’s simply a harder battle.  It simply makes me be sure of what (and who) I believe in.

We talk of compassion as something that rolls off the tongue, but I’m starting to realise that those who practise it most pay a price when they choose to exercise it to those who the rest of the world deem unworthy.

“Anyone can slay a dragon …but try waking up every morning and loving the world all over again. That’s what takes a real hero.” 

― Brian Andreas

I thought I started to learn about compassion as a teen.  I don’t remember it being raised earlier, although I am sure it was implied.  When people hurt me, I was told to have compassion for them.  Usually that compassion came with the word ‘Christian‘ in front of it, although I have never understood why.  My experience is that when compassion is prefaced by religion then it sadly comes with conditions.  Some people are deemed unworthy of compassion simply because they choose to be different.  That just screams ‘wrong’ to me.  It did then, and it does even more so now.

But still, that’s what I was taught.  Put aside my own hurts and be compassionate towards the ones who had hurt me.  As a teen that was really hard, especially when I had been hurt badly.  It seemed to me that no one was being compassionate toward me.  My hurt didn’t matter and I learned from that, rightly or wrongly, that I didn’t matter.  I couldn’t understand people who loved me telling me in this way that I didn’t matter. Although they claimed that’s not what they were doing.

As I’ve grown I have distanced myself from the prefaced type of compassion.  It seemed false to me, although I hasten to add that there are some very loving and caring people in any community.  It just seemed inconsistent and uninterested in my needs or my beliefs.

Now I see compassion as something that all human beings should have for all other beings.  But as I’ve already suggested, it’s perhaps hard to be compassionate when you’ve been hurt.  That said, I don’t believe it’s impossible.

Last year I was hurt very badly by someone.  While I was still picking up the pieces, that person accused me of hypocrisy.  I was accused of writing in my blog about compassion, yet not showing it to the person who hurt me.  Did I laugh or did I cry?  I admit that accusation stopped me in my tracks, because I knew it was something I had blogged about and I needed to question my actions since.  For a while there, it was difficult to write at all.  I also knew that the person accusing me had hurt me bad yet I had done nothing to deserve it.

I eventually came to the conclusion, that I hadn’t been hypocritical.  The person who had hurt me was entitled as anyone to my compassion, but I was also entitled to theirs.  Is that confusing?  Hopefully not.  It came back to that issue of how to be compassionate when you’ve been hurt.

Actually it led to a realisation that I needed to be able to forgive their actions/words in order to have compassion.  It didn’t come immediately, because I still hurt like hell, but it has come since.  It didn’t fix the relationship (that won’t happen) but it gave me some peace, and actually, that was enough.

As human beings I think that we make judgements about who does, and doesn’t deserve compassion.  I’m not convinced that the judgement is mine to make.  Who am I to determine who deserves compassion?

The reason for this post comes from things I’ve seen, heard and read lately, on a number of different subjects.  Watching people determine that they have the right to destroy another person’s life rather than have compassion.  I’m not referring to anything specific because it’s there every day, anywhere we look.  Often that destruction occurs of people who are unknown to the destroyer.  They don’t even understand the effects of their actions.  They simply don’t know who they choose to destroy.

I’m not perfect.  I make mistakes, and maybe at times I don’t have as much compassion as I should for someone.  We’re all human.  And when we’ve been hurt, compassion seems next to impossible.  It makes me so sad how easily, we as humans, can set out to destroy others, and then we congratulate ourselves on a job well done without stopping to think of the price, without stopping to think of the alternative… compassion.

So you think I’m crazy?  No.  Just thinking about another way of being.

It’s not my right to destroy another, but I believe it is my job to offer compassion where I can.  I was told recently that if I had compassion for a person who had hurt me, then I hadn’t suffered enough at their hands.  The person who said it hardly knew me and certainly didn’t know of what I had, or hadn’t suffered.  I disagreed strongly with that view for so many reasons.  But mostly I just don’t see it as my role to destroy others.

I know all too well how hard it is to be compassionate towards a person who has hurt me.  Being hurt doesn’t give me the right to hurt back, although I know that’s what comes naturally.  I think if someone has hurt me and I find it hard to give compassion to them, I need to back off  (and probably shut my mouth) rather than seek to destroy.  Eventually I will work to a point of peace again, and maybe then I can find that compassion.

In case you’re wondering, this is all me just wondering out loud.  I’m working out something for myself.  I’m not saying that it’s how it has to be for anyone else.  Although I think for me, it has to be.

“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” 

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Christmas Resolutions

Image credit: By Kelvinsong, via Wikimedia Commons

Twas the night two days (in NZ) before Christmas… and all through the house world, not a creature was stirring (well, that’s just wrong!) and every Kiwi (and probably Australian too) was hard at work baking a pavlova (staple Christmas food Downunder).  Me?  I have no pav to bake, and my contribution to Christmas dinner can’t be made until the day.  So I’ve been writing and here’s my Christmas post…

You maybe thinking that I’m a week early on setting New Year Resolutions, as is the usual practise for many people.  I’m not though.  I don’t do New Year Resolutions because they never seem to last, and I never seem to be enthusiastic enough.  But as Christmas has approached I’ve realised that I’ve quietly been setting Christmas Resolutions instead.  The great thing about Christmas Resolutions, in case you didn’t know, is that they come bearing a little Christmas magic with them.  A perfect way to make sure they come true.

So here they are.  Completely unrelated, but of importance to me…

Image credit: Connie Bowen (used with permission)
Facebook: I Create My World: a Children’s Book of Affirmations

Christmas Resolution #1
I believe (again) in the magic of Christmas!

I admit that I gave up on the magic of Christmas a while back.  Actually, I had almost given up on any Christmas.  I didn’t enjoy it, couldn’t really see the point, and just hoped it would be over sooner rather than later… with as little pain as possible.  But actually, Christmas is kind of cool.  There’s the Christian Christmas Nativity story, which I’ll get to in a minute, but there is also Santa Claus and reindeers…

I’ve been watching a few Christmas movies lately, my favourite being the one my friend Kathy very kindly sent to me.  That is ‘Miracle on 34th Street‘.  It makes me sad when children, through the ideals of their parents usually, are taught to believe that Santa Claus is not real.  I think those children miss out, on a lot.  I think it’s good for children to use their imagination and experience such tales.

I can remember when local television stations used to track the progress of Santa around the globe.  What amazed me was just how Santa made it around the whole globe in just one night.  Well I understand that better now and it helps that some places don’t celebrate Christmas, so he can zip past those places.  But again, it is sad that those children (and adults) miss out on the magic of Christmas.

So what is this magic of Christmas.  I think we need to get away from it being about gifts and start to see it as being about spreading peace, joy and love around our whole globe.  If each person, adult and child, could have a piece of that this Christmas, then I think we’d be going a long way.  And if it could apply to the whole world, and not just those of certain religions, then that too would be a great move to seeing the world be kinder to each other.  Now I believe that is something Santa Claus would support.  Throw in a few reindeers, and a bit of mistletoe, and we’d be getting somewhere.

One more point on the magic of Christmas.  For a few years now I have been aware of a debate within the Christian church of whether the virgin birth (at Christmas) was really a virgin birth.  I was raised in a Christian home and spent a good chunk of my life as a practising Christian (although I’m not now).  The Christian story of Jesus’ birth was what I was raised with.  Santa Claus took a very definite second place, and I know that many people reading may also see it this way.

So what of this virgin birth?  Was Jesus’ mother really a virgin?  This is far from a theological stance(my argument would probably not hold up anywhere) but I’ve come to my own conclusion that if I can believe in the magic of Christmas, then I can believe in the virgin birth. Maybe it takes a little imagination, but imagination is a very good thing.  And why should we confine it to children believing in Santa? In my mind, it is sad when we limit our experiences to what we see as literal.

So yes, I believe in the magic of Christmas, including the virgin birth.

Christmas Resolution #2
I support the survival of the rhinoceros  (and I did tell you these were unrelated!!)

Image credit: Andrew McMillan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

It broke my heart a few weeks ago when I read that the black rhino as a species is now extinct.  Rhinos are wonderful animals.  In my mind they are part hippo, part dinosaur and part unicorn (yes, I did say unicorn).  That spells a wonderful mix.  The thought that we as human beings have killed off a species because ‘we’ wanted the ivory from their tusks, is a tragedy.  It’s happening to elephants too, another animal I like, but I won’t get side tracked.  Why can’t we salute the rhino?  Why can’t we put an end to the hunting, and celebrate the unicorn in the rhino.  That little bit of magic.  If you look closely you’ll probably see a rainbow too.

One species are extinct but we can’t afford to lose more.  As for me, I will do what I can to support their survival.  What about you?

Christmas Resolution #3
I must stop crossing oceans! 

This third resolution comes on the basis of the quote I read some months back and knew instantly that it was ‘my‘ quote for 2013.  Anyone else might read this quote and think “oh, that’s nice advice” but after this year, it is imperative that I get on board with it… and not on board a plane either.  I did something like 75 hours (there and back) of that before I learnt my lesson).

The quote is:

“There comes a point when you have to stop crossing oceans for people who wouldn’t even jump puddles for you.”

I have no idea who uttered these wise words, but I’m sure they were speaking metaphorically, and not literally.  Only I could do this literally, crossing many, many oceans (and lands) before I read this quote. Sure, you can say I was in love and had my head in the clouds.  It’s true.  But from now on I check first on the ability of the person in question to ‘jump puddles‘.  I checked many things, but alas, I forgot to check whether he would jump a puddle for me.  Even if he’d lay down his coat in a puddle so I could walk over it (as I remember my Dad telling me that a gentleman would).

If they won’t jump puddles for me, my feet are staying firmly on kiwi ground.  And I expect them to jump big puddles too.

That’s the end of my resolutions.  There’s no point making so many that you can’t keep up.  New Year Resolutions are made to be broken, but these Christmas ones are firmly embedded in my mental ‘it’s happening‘ list.

So sit back, look out for Santa Claus and his reindeers flying past. Oh, and keep a very big eye out for any flying rhinoceros.  I think that would be a sight to see, but also one to perhaps avoid if you can.  Have a lovely Christmas.  Forget the stress of families and money and food (especially for those of us who battle eating disorders and know this time of the year is the absolute worst).  Have a little magic instead.  Have a little peace.

And while you’re about it, check out the wonderful Facebook page where I got the image from.  It is I Create My World: a Children’s Book of Affirmations  A big thank you to Connie for her permission to use her work.

“Christmas magic is silent. You don’t hear it—you feel it, you know it, you believe it.”

― Kevin Alan Milne, The Paper Bag Christmas

Honouring The Silly In Other People

When someone takes the chance, and shows us their silly side, we are indeed honoured.  We all have silly in us, but it’s not that easy to let it out, especially when we’ve been hurt badly in the past.  When we feel vulnerable in other aspects of our lives we become even more vulnerable to let someone in and see silly.

Silly is not about immaturity.  Actually I think the people who ‘do’ silly the best are usually very mature people who see the value in letting go of those inhibitions once in a while and being silly.  That said, I know very mature people who would never be seen dead doing silly, but I am sure that they would be better off if they tried it once in a while.

Dictionaries tend to define silly as foolish, lacking common sense, frivolous, stupid or childish… but that’s not what I am talking about.  Silly is not a negative thing in my mind, but rather something that is very good for our mental health.  It’s about letting out that child inside of us to have fun.  Silly is a little bit crazy, but in a good way.

The Urban Dictionary provides a multitude of definitions but I like this one:

“The most awesome compliment you can give a person! It is cooler than cool or even ice-cold. Silly is the epitome of greatness, and a term used only to describe the greatest human beings on the planet”

I can be silly with two (almost three) year old L.  It’s easy to be silly with a two-year old.  To let go of adult inhibitions and answer her toy mobile phone as I would my own real phone, drink pretend cups of tea, not to mention lots of other interactions which I probably wouldn’t have with most adults.

But it’s good to know who you can be silly with as an adult.  Those people really matter, because they are the people with whom you can be yourself.  If you can be yourself in silly moments with them, you also know you can be yourself in the moments when you are struggling.  And for those of us with mental illnesses, it’s good to know who those people are in advance.

I really value the people around me who I know I can be silly with, mostly because I know they accept me for exactly who I am.  I also feel extremely honoured when others feel they can be silly with me, because it tells me they trust me.

Recently someone in my life stomped fiercely on my silliness.  Actually it wasn’t the only thing they stomped on, but the silly Cate is the matter for today.  It’s interesting because the stomping on the silly me is perhaps the most hurtful of all, and I keep surprising myself with that one.  I literally cringe when I stop to think about it, because I know how vulnerable I was in letting that person see that side of me.  I’m not talking about the fun, silly but the most sensitive two-year old who dares to let you into their world.  Who dares to let you into their imagination and fantasy.  Who trusts you to show you the real them.

Having that stomped on hurt like hell, but it reminds me to value moments of silliness with people in my life.  It reminds me to honour that part of them, by not only enjoying it, but by treasuring it.  I can tell you, and you probably can too, once silliness is stomped on it’s almost impossible to win that trust back.

If nothing else makes sense in what I have said today, remember that.  And honour silly.  Value the trust being placed in your heart.

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” 

― Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey

Gut Instinct

I constantly see articles, blog posts, quotations and books telling me to trust my gut instinct.  But what happens when my gut instinct gets it wrong?  Yes, that’s right.  Wrong.  Everything told me I was on the right path, my heart was completely at peace with the direction my life was heading in.  I had big plans, that felt completely right.  Not a doubt.

Some years ago I worked in jobs where relying on my gut instinct was sometimes the only way to know that what I was doing was right.  The job focused around people in need of money and food.  I had to be able to spot inconsistencies in the story clients were putting to me, and I got pretty good at it.  But very often it came down to gut instinct.  Did I believe what this client was telling me?  Was the need they were putting across to me genuine?  Over the years I got pretty good at it, and I learnt to trust my instincts.  No doubt there were occasions when I got it wrong, but mostly I was right on the mark.

A few years on and I was in another job.  I had a man in his fifties working for me.  He was the nicest person.  Everyone thought so, and he did an excellent job both with clients and with helping other staff.  My gut instinct told me that this was a good person and he became someone who I trusted to look after the department when I wasn’t there.

I was eventually made redundant from that position and so left the company, but some years on it was discovered that this lovely person had been systematically defrauding the company while he was working for me.  I never suspected a thing. No one did.  He’s now serving out his time in prison.  My gut instinct didn’t pick it up.  Okay, so I’m human like the rest of us, but how can it be that you can be so sure you’ve made a good decision about someone, but you get it wrong?

You will have guessed by now that I like quotations.  I love getting nuggets of wisdom from people who have gone before us.  So often I conclude that even with time, life really doesn’t change that much.

My favourite quote is one I have used here before:

“Come to the edge”, he said. We are afraid. “Come to the edge”, he said. They came. He pushed them, And they flew…”

-Guillaume Apollinaire

So often when we are facing something new or just different, we need a push.  All going well, we get that push and we fly.  We soar.  And we’re glad we took that step off the edge.

This year I was facing something new, and my heart and my gut told me that what I was doing was absolutely right for me.  It was huge, and it wasn’t that I was without fear.  Fear is just natural when we face something new.  But in spite of what seemed to be just normal fear, I was totally sure of what I was doing.  There wasn’t a doubt in my mind.

So I came to the edge, and as I took off from the edge, I started to fly.  I thought I had listened to my gut instinct correctly and I was happy.  Actually I was more happy than I had been for years.  But then the flying faltered, and I went…     splat….     there was no more flying but instead I had crashed at the bottom of the cliff.

I very quickly discovered that my gut instinct had got it wrong.  This wasn’t a moment of flight, but instead I found myself scraping myself off the rocks, looking at my wounds and wondering how the heck had I got it so wrong?

This post isn’t about feeling sorry for myself.  The wounds are still there, but I will survive.  This post is about making sense of what happened and asking myself, what happens when gut instinct gets it wrong?  It’s not like I was in denial of real doubts.  And it’s not like I hadn’t put a whole lot of thought into what I was planning.  My gut instinct told me that I was doing the right thing for me.  I was completely committed to what was ahead.  This was right for me.

I’ve been mulling this post over in my mind for several weeks now.  I didn’t want to write it until I had an answer for myself.  I wanted that hope of understanding, but to be honest I’m still stumped by this.  Every time I see something telling my just my gut feeling, I am left with the thought ‘but I’ve proven that I can’t trust my gut feeling‘.  How do I trust my gut feeling, when it gets it wrong?

Maybe for some reason I just had to go through what this path has taken me through.  Again, I don’t know.  I’m sure there would be an easier way to learn a lesson.  I personally don’t believe that everything happens for a reason.   I believe that some things are too awful for some divine power to put us through.  Don’t try and tell me that innocent people have died in Syria in past weeks for some divine reason.  I don’t buy it.  I’m not saying that what I have been through is in that category, but I’m also not prepared to say that what I have been though was all for some unknown reason.

None of the books, articles, blog posts tell me what to make if my gut instinct getting it wrong.  I don’t know the answer.  I just have to keep treating those wounds, keep taking one step at a time.  As for leaping off cliffs?  I think I’ll pass on that for now.

“Deep down within the heart there is a stillness which is healing, a trust in the universal laws which is unwavering, and a strength which is rock-like. But because it is so deep we need both patience and perseverance when digging for it.” 

― Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton

Big Ears

No, this post is not about Noddy and his friend Big Ears.  It’s about using our ears in big ways.  I read recently that we generally don’t listen to hear, but instead listen to reply.  While the other person is speaking, we’re already working out what we’re going to reply.  It made me stop and think.  People have said before that I am a good listener, but I suspect I am usually listening to reply too.

Today I had the experience of someone listening to me to hear.  I’m not in any way implying that others I have talked to recently weren’t listening to me, but this time it was different.  This time I knew that the person who was listening to me, heard what I said.  He got it.  He really got it.

This person was my doctor and I was seeing him for a totally different reason.  I admit I have been less than flattering in my blog of him in the past.  That comes because he and I have a different understanding of one of my diagnoses.  But this time, my time was up and I was treading on his lunch hour (or half hour).  But he took the time to listen to something I haven’t been able to tell anyone for what seems like a very long time.  And he accepted it and he got it.

No doubt in time I will be complaining again about his understanding of my illness, but for today he sat there, listened and reflected back to me what he had heard.  Actually the real impact came for me as I walked away from the surgery.  When I realised I had told someone and it was okay.   The world was not going to end.

It’s simple stuff, but I know only too well when listening to another it is easy to be consumed by our own stuff.  One could easily say that my doctor was paid to listen to me, but we all know that doesn’t work in practise.  They’re pushing for time, and it just doesn’t happen.  We get our allotted 15 minutes (if we’re lucky) and there’s no time for conversation.

The fact that he listened today left me with an enormous amount of relief.  It hasn’t changed anything in my life, except that today I know that for a few minutes I was heard.  And for that I am thankful.

“People love to talk but hate to listen. Listening is not merely not talking, though even that is beyond most of our powers; it means taking a vigorous, human interest in what is being told us. You can listen like a blank wall or like a splendid auditorium where every sound comes back fuller and richer.” 

― Alice Duer Miller

Standing Idly By

It’s something that I find so difficult.  To stand idly by and do nothing when someone is being hurt.  Some people find it easy to say “it’s none of my business“,  or “I’m not getting involved” but for me it’s so hard.

A few years ago I was out walking one morning with some friends.  We had been walking alongside the Avon River, which flows through Christchurch, NZ when we noticed a mother duck leading her ducklings (about 10 from memory) onto a road bridge to cross the river.  From my observation (I live near the river) ducks don’t have the best road sense and in breeding time it is a common sight at the end of my street to see peak hour traffic grind to a halt as a mother duck leads her young across the road.

Back to the ones crossing the bridge this particular morning, without even need for discussion we could see that traffic was not going to be able to see the duck family in time to stop, and so we formed a kind of human shield at the back of the ducklings, while one of our group tried to herd them onto the footpath.  As it turned out, no duck or human was hurt that day.  The traffic could see us much easier than the ducklings and so their lives were saved.

I am very clear that many people wouldn’t have done anything to help the ducks to safety that day.  They’d say “it’s none of my business“,  or “I’m not getting involved” or even “they’re just ducks“.  That attitude makes me kind of sad, although I recognise that it is perhaps a much more stress-free approach to life.

English: Duck and ducklings, Frogmore "Go...

Image credit: Wikipedia.com

My stress levels have been peaking this week, and I’ve found myself with physical symptoms of stress that I haven’t had since Christchurch was in the thick of earthquakes in 2010/11.  Life has been pretty stressful lately but actually it wasn’t about my life that I was getting stressed.  This is interesting because it was what I could see happening to other people (whom I don’t personally know) that was stressing me more than what was happening in my own life.

“You don’t just give up.  You don’t just let things happen.  You take a stand!  You say no! You have the guts to do what’s right, even when everyone else just runs away.”

 - Mia Kaim

And this is where I get stuck.  I might have the guts to do what’s right, but sometimes it is at the expense of myself.  I could stand up to the person who I can see harming others, and a big part of me wants to.  That big part says those people being hurt deserve to have someone stand up for them.  I realise that it’s like I’m stuck in this battle of is it me, or is it them?  Who is going to get hurt the most?  Actually in this case, the other people are being hurt much more than what effect it has/would have on me, yet I am also aware of that there probably would be a personal cost to me.

From an early age my mother would tell you that I ‘collected’ what she called ‘lame ducks’ (that always seemed rather uncharitable to me) or people who needed my help, or needed to be ‘saved’ by me.  She’s right, I did seem to collect people like that and I think her worst fear was that I would marry one of them and maybe produce ‘lame duck’ grandchildren (I didn’t).  Actually I think my father did much the same as I did in collecting people who needed his help.  Maybe its genetic, but I just hate to see someone being hurt, or mistreated.

I don’t find this one at all easy.  I talking about the general dilemma rather than the specific issue in front of me right now.  I simply don’t find the “don’t get involved/it’s none of my business” argument that easy to sit with when people are being hurt.  Actually I’d go so far as to say that I sometimes wish I was the type of person who could take that approach.  It must be so much easier to simply turn your back and walk away, but even as I write that I’m screaming “That is so wrong!“.

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” 

— E.B. White

I Want To Change The World

It’s just a small job.  I’m not over-estimating my abilities.  Rather I am just taking Gandhi’s words to heart:

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

If I want change, I have to start with me.  Gandhi also says:

“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

I like that.  He puts it into perspective.  Of course I can’t change the world all by myself.  But I can make a start in my corner, and hope it catches on.

When I start talking of wanting to change the world, I often get told things like

“don’t watch/read that stuff.  It’s too upsetting”

“one person can’t make a difference”

“you’re too soft”

“you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to change what can’t be changed”

Actually those thoughts are what drive me crazy and get me upset.  Because I can make a difference and I refuse to believe that inserting some compassion and kindness into this world is beyond each one of us.  What’s more, how do you tell the victims of our dis-compassionate world that it’s just too big to fix?

Where does my passion for changing the world come from?  Simply having my eyes and ears open.  It is heartbreaking to see and hear what we do to fellow humans, and other creatures.  I could just choose not to watch/read but I don’t think that’s the answer.  I feel uncomfortable and sometimes distressed by what I see and read, but that is minimal to what the victims experience.  Sometimes a little uncomfortable is a good thing, even though it might not feel so great at the time.

Last night I watched a documentary about African elephants and their demise because of ivory poaching.  They had set up an elephant orphanage for those young who had tragically been left without parents.  They keep the elephants in the orphanage until they’re old enough to fend for themselves.  But what will happen when they are released, and the poachers are still operating?  In the documentary the experts  predicted that in 20 years there will be no elephants left on this planet.  I’m guessing that applies to Asian elephants too.  Do we want a world with no elephants?  I don’t.

Last week I read of an eleven year old who committed suicide, as a result of bullying.  Eleven!  I have a ten-year old nephew so that’s pretty close in ages.  It makes me stop and think, what if it were my family?  Eleven year old’s are still children.  They shouldn’t have to even know about the dark side of our world, let alone be choosing to opt out of it.  How does a family recover from that?  How do her friends recover from that?

And as I have been writing I see an update has come in on a story I read a few weeks ago.  Suicide baiting.  I admit I had no idea that such a thing existed (beyond the movies maybe) until I read an account of a mother whose son committed suicide in 2010, while about 1000 people watched, and some egged him on.  How do you live with that if you’re the mother?  A judge has just ruled that no one was culpable.  That must be a very hard one to live with, now that her son is gone.

And one last one I read of this morning.  A two year old boy being physically abused by a stranger because he was wearing a pink headband.  Pink was his favourite colour.  He was two.  And a stranger took it upon himself to ‘correct’ the way he expresses himself.  Apparently the two year old would thank him later in life for putting him on the ‘right road’.

My philosophy has always been to treat people as I would want them to treat me.  It’s not complicated.  I just ask myself, what would I want?  Maybe I can’t make up for all the hatred in the world, but even my ‘insignificant part’ (as Gandhi puts it) makes a difference to someone.  Yes, I’m going to feel uncomfortable and would rather not see this stuff, but I’m not prepared to turn my back on the need for compassion in our world.

Yes, I want to change the world.  And why not, when I don’t like what I see?

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” 

― Mother Teresa

Even When Your Voice Shakes

Today I am heading into the city to be part of a protest rally against the use of animals to test party pills (legal highs).  It is one of a large number of protests around New Zealand today, the largest ever combined rally for animal welfare in this country.

The thought of using animals to test party pills just appalls me, with not the least reason being that animals react differently to humans with these concoctions, so other than to harm innocent beings it seems a waste of time.  Some animals die from the testing.  I’m inclined to say that if people want party pills then they should test them on themselves.  But then that allows no compassion for those who get caught up in that scene without really wanting to be there.

I’m learning to speak the truth, even when my voice shakes, and being part of this rally is one way of doing that.  I don’t plan on saying anything but the ‘voice shaking’ bit for me comes in the form of going to a crowd gathering.  Crowds just do my head in.  I struggle enough at the supermarket on a quiet day, and I mostly do my best to stay away from anything at which a crowd might gather.

I’m not a particularly anxious person.  I don’t have panic attacks (or I haven’t for a very long time).  I’m just not confident around people, especially people I don’t know.  A crowd seems to close in on me and I have the sense that I just don’t belong, and that I need to escape and get out.  I can’t remember when I last went to some type of protest gathering, although I regularly have strong feelings of support for them.  I just haven’t been able to get past my ‘voice shaking’.

What makes this one different?  I have a growing concern for the welfare of animals because of a number of things I have recently witnessed.  To see an animal treated cruelly, or with indifference breaks my heart and fills me with anger.  In the past I wouldn’t support any cruelty but it wasn’t a personal issue to me, until I spent 12 years of my life living with this little lady.

Penny Kitten

Meet Penny.  If you’ve been following my blog for a while you might have met her before.  This is actually a painting of Penny, as a kitten, done from a photograph by a good friend and talented artist.  Penny was my first pet.  She’s passed on now (about 18 months ago) but she will always be my first-born.  I love her dearly.  She taught me so much about compassion and accepting each other.  Penny never had the opportunity to have kittens but she cared for me in a way that left my jaw dropping open. Yes, she was a cat and could be as indifferent as any cat, but she also loved me and was constantly there for me, particularly when I was unwell.  She saved my life at one point, simply by being with me and giving me a reason to live.

It’s difficult sometimes to put aside the teachings and beliefs that we grow up with.  I just took for granted that, as I was taught, animals were down the scale of importance compared to humans.  Humans were on the top of the hierarchy of beings, and all animals were beneath.  Not as important.  Animals were on earth to provide for humans.  Animals did not have a soul and that is what put them down a peg or two.  They were less than me.

I don’t believe that anymore, and mostly that has come from the lessons Penny taught me.  My personal belief is that all animals are created equal, and are worthy of as much care as any person.  It feels (coming from my background) like almost blasphemy to say that.  I know it’s not a unique viewpoint, but to come from where I came, it is in some ways turning my back on my beliefs.  Again, my voice shakes.  If we are in any way superior in any of our functioning it is only so that we may care for other beings.

I didn’t have pets while I was growing up, except for a mouse for about two hours, and guinea pigs for about two days (another story).  We were told we couldn’t have pets because Dad was allergic to cats and a dog wasn’t allowed either…  something to do with shifting cities every few years for Dad’s job.  Actually I think my parents just weren’t people who could see the value of animals.

I can remember asking my Dad (a minister) where animals went when they died.  I ‘understood’ that people went to heaven but because animals didn’t have a soul, then they just died.  End of story.  Hmm.

I believe that Penny is in, what I understand to be, heaven.  I believe she’s there with my father.  They died about eight months apart and in spite of Dad’s allergy to cats, he never had a problem with Penny.  Actually he loved Penny, and he was the only other human she would go near.  This is my view but it’s okay if you don’t see it that way.  Really.

Penny taught me a lot of things, but mostly that each creature (including me) are equal.  We all deserve to be safe and treated with compassion, animals maybe more because for some they don’t always have the environment or ability to care for themselves.  I hate the idea of animals not being treated with love, and I hate the idea of them being used as test subjects for party pills or any other substance.  It’s wrong.

I don’t have any pets at the moment, because of uncertainty caused by living in a house with substantial earthquake damage.  I’m trying to hold off getting any until I have the repairs done (whenever that is).  But I miss having an animal in the house.  They are so intuitive.  More so than us, often.  Right now I make the most of my time with Duncan, my brother’s dog.  He has become very special to me, even though I only see him about once a week.  He’s young, he’s exuberant but he’s loves his humans very much.  I don’t believe for a minute that he is beneath me somehow, or that he doesn’t have a soul.

Duncan

“Man is the cruelest animal.” 

― Friedrich Nietzsche

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” 

― Mahatma Gandhi

Defining Friendships

Across my life I have had many people try to define who my friends should be.  Some were successful in their attempts, probably because I wasn’t strong enough to stand up for what I wanted and for what I knew I should have.

As a child, I had a number of adults who deemed that their offspring were not allowed to be friends with me.  What had I done wrong to get this judgement?  I was a Preacher’s Kid, and Preachers Kids had a reputation for being ‘off the rails‘ and generally a bad influence.  I wasn’t ‘off the rails‘ at the time, and if anything their offspring were probably a bad influence on me.  But the ‘jury’ had me announced to be bad news, simply because of my father’s profession, and so it was difficult to have the friendship we might have wanted.

As a teenager, and then as an adult, I spent many years being the victim of two stalkers.  Society seems to have this idea than stalking, and being stalked is a bit of a joke.  It’s not.  Among other things it plays serious havoc with the mental health of both the stalked, and the stalker.  Stalking is never a joke!

It was difficult not to let my friendships be defined by the actions of these two men.  Friends were an access point to their victim, and so I constantly had to be careful about who I spent time with, what I told them and where I went with friends. Some of my friends at the time were amazingly supportive, and I will always feel much gratitude to them for the way they supported and protected me.  But other friends fell by the way side.  It was simply necessary for trying to maintain that mental health, but I feel sad that I have missed out on much because of this.

By the time the stalking terror was over, I was married and again, I was told who my friends should and shouldn’t be.  Perhaps most memorable to me is the friend who was ‘barred’ from our house, particularly while my husband was at work.  She was barred because she smoked (he didn’t realise that I had started smoking by then), she too had a mental illness, and perhaps the most dastardly ‘deed’ was that she was a lesbian.  All of that made me more angry than ever, for so many reasons.  This particular attempt to define my friends very nearly ended in tragedy.  Thankfully it didn’t, but it was certainly not without lasting harm to both of us.  And to my marriage, which is long since over thankfully.

All of this came to mind in a disturbing manner this week when I discovered (I’m probably months behind most people) that Facebook has decided for itself who my ‘close friends’ are.  What’s more, without my permission, Facebook will tell these ‘close friends’ of my activity on Facebook.  The cringe factor sky-rockets for me instantly, and what I want to do is run as far away as possible from Facebook.

This might seem extreme to many, but not for me.  Again, I am being told who my friends are, and scarily similar to the many years I spent being stalked, I find that those ‘close friends’ get information about me which I have not agreed too.  Remember too that these ‘close friends’ are not my close friends.  A few maybe, but they are simply Facebook friends I have contact with regularly on Facebook.

I object strongly, Facebook.

Now that at least some of these people get a notification when I am ‘on-line’ (even though I permanently have the chat function turned off),  I am starting to feel stalked again.

People know what I am doing, and when I am doing it.  This is the scariest thing when you have been stalked.  The stalker knows more of what I do than even I know.  Somehow they seem to know before I do something.  They constantly know everything, and I have little or often no power to stop that.  I am left with that familiar feeling that there is someone standing outside my windows just watching me.  I lived with that reality for 15 years, and many years following as I tried to recover from the trauma of living this way.

Yet again, my friendships are defined by others.  Just when I’m learning to define myself, I have a social media that wants to do that for me.  That completely freaks me out.  It seems that I have little control over who Facebook determines to be my ‘close friends’ and I have no control over what they get told about what I do.

This time social media has gone too far for me.  I know that most people won’t even get why I am so disturbed for by this, and in a way, I am glad because it tells me you haven’t had to live as a prisoner of another.  As for me though, I need to work out what to do.  I can’t live like this.  Time for some thought.

“I cried for all of those things that should have just been for us…” 

― Kate Chisman, Creep

More Than You Can Handle

Yesterday I saw a statement that I have seen many times before.  I felt the same irritation as the other times.  It’s a pretty simplistic statement.  Well, it’s not really but I think it is often said without much thought and so I’ll call it simplistic.  I’m sure it gives some people (who say it) some type of peace, and so I guess that is a good thing.  But for me?  It reminds me how easily some people miss reality for so many others.

The statement?

“God doesn’t give you more than you can handle

First things first.  I believe that our interpretation of who, or what God is happens to be an individual thing and because of that I’m not going to get into that.  What, or who dishes out what we can, or can’t handle is really up to you.  Your truth is all that matters for you.  My truth is what matters for me.  It’s not really relevant to this post.

The statement above is about how much we have to deal with in life.  Some people choose to believe that we will never get ‘more than we can handle’.  I don’t agree.

Ask a parent who has just lost a child to suicide as a result of bullying.  Ask someone who has been wrongly accused of a crime, and their life and reputation is left in tatters.  Ask someone who has lost everything in a disaster.  There are so many scenarios where, if we were put in that particular situation, then perhaps we’d think there was a “more than I can handle” point.

I believe that mental illness is often (although not always) caused by ‘more than we can handle‘.  It was for me.  Life got to the point where I couldn’t handle any more, and I crashed into depression and eating disorders that almost took my life and certainly took over my life.

I also believe that my father died because he had ‘more than he could handle‘.  The stress of continual earthquakes which destroyed his home and possessions, as well as leaving great uncertainty for so many people dear to him, literally stopped his heart and took his life.

Death is often about ‘more than we can handle‘, whether it be physically or emotionally.  Suicide must surely be about ‘more than we can handle‘, not to mention addictions, self harm, psychosis.  Some things happen that very nearly destroy us.  Maybe we eventually climb back and rebuild our lives but those things have a lasting and devastating effect on us.

What concerns me is how soul-destroying ‘simple’ statements like this can be.  It seems to me to miss the point of the extreme suffering that someone might be under.  And there is little empathy or compassion in such a statement.

This post isn’t about my own suffering, although there have definitely been a few times where I had ‘more than I could handle‘.   Rather it is about the suffering that I see around me.  It is wrong for us to simplify it all and yell “get over it” because ‘you can handle it’.  Actually we can’t know that for another person.

If you want to believe that, fine but we don’t support those around us in any way by telling them that.  Personally I think that all it does is pile on the guilt and shame for someone who has more than they can handle.  Yes we can hope, but we should never assume.

But then, that’s just my opinion.  It’s not something I would ever say to someone, and that’s all I’m saying.  I’m sorry if it’s depressing.  It’s just we need to think before we speak, especially to people who are suffering.


“No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push it just the same.” 

― Jay Asher, Thirteen Reasons Why