I was driving with Eric to a local department store, when he noticed a man standing on the sidewalk near the parking lot and urinating. “Oh my God,” Eric blurted out, “this is
disgusting, this is terrible!”
Eric, who had been studying Communicating with Compassion with me, turned to me and said, “You teach compassion. What do you say?”
“Something in this situation is quite upsetting to you”, I said. (Compassionate communicators first acknowledge another’s feelings and only then give advice and feedback.) Eric let out a long sigh and simply said, “Yes. These people have no respect for anybody else. He is urinating right next to the main road!”
I then asked Eric why he thought this man was urinating on a public sidewalk. “He must be either homeless or mentally unstable,” my friend responded. I agreed that this was likely the case.
“So if he is either homeless or unstable”, I asked, “what would you like to say in response to his actions?” My friend replied, “How sad!”
Indeed, it was very sad. It also reminds us of our own vulnerability. If it happens to that person, it could happen to us. That reminder of vulnerability is perhaps why my friend responded with condemnation. Judging the event as “bad” is a way of saying, “This happens to bad people and would never happen to me”.
The other choice is to see things with a compassionate eye. A man is urinating on the sidewalk, 100 yards away from the public restrooms in a department store. “How sad,” indeed, that he is so unstable that he does not avail himself of this, and how sad that in our rich society he is not getting the care he needs.
We ourselves are the main beneficiary of this approach. Judging and condemning another affects us, first and foremost. It affects our happiness and our quality of life, and judgment also affects our physical health. An attitude of compassion, on the other hand, enriches our lives spiritually and emotionally as well as bringing physical benefits in its wake.
(There is another reason why we judge and condemn, and that is the principle of projection. That is for another article.)