Compassion, Judgment, and Stress

Sometimes when we are going through difficult times, we can feel very isolated.  It seems that we experience some problems alone, that know no one would really understand our situation.  Rather than reach out for help, whether it is  for advise, an ear or just an understanding shoulder, we decide to go it alone and work things out by ourselves.   And while the strong silent type may be a good thing in the movies, it is almost always a disaster for well being.

One of the ways to avoid stress during difficult times is to turn to a community.  It can be a community of one–your partner, your spouse, a best friend.  It can be a community of several–colleagues,  friends, or family.  With support, it is easier to face any situation especially when you realize you are not alone.  Sometimes, however,  reaching out for help can be difficult.  Just talking about problems can look like a sign of weakness, and in today’s competitive world,  weakness is not a characteristic we want to share with others.

One of the ways some people protect themselves during stressful periods is by being judgmental.  It can be a judgment of the self, but usually it is a judgment about others in the situation.   We may decide that someone is not working hard enough, that they are lazy.  Possibly they don’t have the self-control needed to accomplish a task at work.  Whatever it may be, when we decide that someone is a certain way, it is a judgment.

And nine times out of ten, that judgment may be incorrect, but it makes us feel better.  Judgment is really a defensive behavior.  Oftentimes, our judgments are made without any real information about the other person.  We may think someone is lazy, not doing their part at work.  We don’t know that they have spent the week caring for a chronically ill parent or child.   So many times it is easier just to make the judgment rather than make the effort to discover what might be affecting someone else.    It can also prevent us from examining how we feel about ourselves in certain situations.   After all, we often see in others the characteristics that frighten us most about ourselves.

The one thing judgmental behavior is certain to do is cut us off from others.  By its very nature,  judgmental behavior is divisive.   It is very difficult to feel connected when you are focusing on differences rather than similarities.  And when we focus on the differences, we tend to keep people at arm’s length.  This increases any isolation we may be feeling, and thus a cycle of judgment and isolation continues to deepen.

It is not until we make a conscious decision to alter judgmental behavior that we will be able to break the cycle  and feel less disconnected from others.

In today’s society, it seems that one of  the  hardest things we can do is to have compassion for others.  The idea is at the core of most of the world’s social and religious ideologies, but practicing the concept on a daily basis can sometimes feel like an impossible task.   After all, the jerk that just cut you off and took your parking place has made you late for a meeting.  How, or more importantly why, should you feel compassion for him?   Isn’t anger and irritation( not to mention possible hand gestures)  a more appropriate response?

Here’s the deal.  Getting angry or irritated is just going to raise your stress levels.  True, he may have made you late, but you have no idea what happened to him before your paths connected.  It may not seem like a very assertive response, the kind that is highly regarded today.  A healthier response, however, would be to wish him well and move on.   Not only is it not assertive, it is not easy.  But is getting angry, judging him, and creating a divide between you  a better use of energy?  My guess on that would be no.  A better use of energy would be finding a new parking space and getting to the meeting with as little drama as possible.  The second option will leave you less stressed and more effective when you do arrive.

Practicing compassion is a way to feel more connected to the world around us rather than isolating ourselves with judgments.  Once we finally  understand and believe that we are all in this together, tough times can get easier.  Acute situations are easier to accept, because we aren’t wasting energy looking for somewhere or someone to place blame.  New ways to deal with episodic or chronic stress might become apparent.  Compassion allows us to look at all the players and the situation in a non-judgmental way.   When we can do that,  we can expend energy looking for solutions to issues and problems.  Or better yet,  acting with compassion can prevent problems from arising in the first place.

And that is truly a much more positive use of time and personal resources.

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