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Compassion in a Modern World

In our faster-paced, ever-changing world, you may have noticed certain fundamental values often go neglected. You’ll hear “please” and “thank you” much less than you should. A stranger will spill coffee on you and keep on walking without a second glance. The co-worker you took under your wing will suddenly bad-mouth you in the break room. People you’ve never met will be incited to anger, frustration, or even violence over jockeying for position in traffic or grabbing the last pair of Prada shoes from a rack on Black Friday. Friends you think you can count on will make plans to meet you for dinner, or to attend your party or wedding or baby shower, and fail to show without even a phone call.

The strangest thing about these events is that most of the time, nobody finds them out of the ordinary. Rudeness is commonplace, even expected. To become irate over these inconsiderate moments or to hold people accountable for their actions on a regular basis is often seen to be a character flaw, a sign of a controlling, type-A personality. We’re advised so often to “just let it go”.

And, strangely enough, this is often the best advice a person can receive. We can’t control what others say or do, and we can’t fix anyone else’s lack of manners or disregard for social graces. In fact, the only control we have over the situation is how we choose to respond.

The question remains: When is it best to just let it go? If we choose to confront those who mistreat us, we risk escalating the situation, alienating others, ruining friendships, and even getting into physical and verbal altercations. If we overlook all the little slights the world sends our way, we may become silent, angry doormats.

More so than in other situations, dealing with a friend, lover, or family member who has behaved in an unacceptable way creates a sticky situation. After all, the foundation of a relationship is trust and honesty. If you can’t express how you feel, is that friendship really serving the purpose it’s meant to? Is the issue worth losing a friendship over if you choose a confrontational approach?

In today’s world, so many of us view everything as disposable, even other people. If a friendship or relationship is hurtful or is going through a bad patch, it is often the natural response to let it go, to write it off as “toxic”. In some cases, this might be the right course of action, even the best one for everyone involved. In others, however, it may simply be the easy way out.

None of us is a perfect human being, and because of that, no friendship or relationship will be without issue. One of the things that defines strong, healthy relationships is the ability to endure. Without forgiveness or compassion, every single one of us would likely travel the road of life alone, cast aside every time we hurt another person’s feelings or acted thoughtlessly.

Compassion is not only the ability to feel empathy or understanding for a person who has wronged you, it is often the opposite of judgment. In feeling compassion for others, we’re also forced to look at ourselves and our own flaws. We all have our moments of indignation and self-righteousness, especially when we’ve been wronged. Showing compassion toward a friend, being the bigger person, shows that you value that person’s friendship above even your own hurt feelings.

Of course, there are times that, even through a lens of compassion and forgiveness, it is better to let a friendship go. Some wounds can never be totally healed, and some violations of trust are large enough to be forgiven, but only at a distance. Each person has their own limits, standards, and ethics, and what is deserving of forgiveness for one person may be the worst possible betrayal for another.

For many of us, though, letting the small things go allows us to find more peace in our lives. Expressing your feelings about a situation, then stepping back and looking at the situation from another person’s perspective can help foster compassion and understanding rather than anger and personal conflict.  After all, you never know when you’ll be needing that same kind of compassion in return.

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