There is a young woman at work, let’s called her Blessed Bess. She’s been blessed with intelligence, an engaging personality, a loving husband, a big loving family, and two healthy kids. She has mentioned when describing her life how blessed she feels. Fair enough. Gratitude is a much more attractive attitude than entitlement. Yet, when she talks about being blessed, it sounds more like bragging and lacks any compassion or understanding for people who may not be as “blessed.” For example, when people are talking about feeling low or depressed, she will chirp in, “I’ve been very blessed, I’ve never experienced that.” Or if people are relating the strained and painful family relationships in their lives, she’ll add “oh, that’s too bad. I have a great family. There’s so many of us, on the weekends we just swarm all over each others houses. It’s great.” There’s a slight tone of pity when people speak of their problems, because she just doesn’t understand them because she’s so “blessed.” Can you tell I find her slightly annoying?
A couple of weeks ago, one of her children suffered a seizure. No doubt, it was scary for Bess, and she’s rightfully concerned for her child, but she’s completely falling apart. She’s been unable to come into work since it happened two weeks ago. At first, it was because, as suggested by the doctor that the child should be watched closely. Then she had to take the kid to a series of doctor’s appointments. Now, she says she has to be close to her kid’s school in case she has another seizure and needs to be picked up from school. When you speak to her the formerly cheery, overly confident Bess is now a sleep-deprived, anxious mess.
That’s the problem with being blessed, with being really, really fortunate – when the fall comes, it comes hard. For some reason, she thought she was going to dodge some of the basic sufferings we all have to endure – that everything was going to remain perfect. Because her children had been healthy up to this point, she thought they should always remain healthy. When we have this attachment to how things should be, we are setting ourselves up for suffering. For many of us, things never quite match up to that picture, so we may end up depressed because things didn’t turn out the way we wanted. But, for those who had everything they wanted, they dreamed about, when it starts to reveal its true nature as an illusion, as temporary, it can be shattering.
I’ve always struggled with compassion for people like Bess who brag about their good fortune. And Bess has confused pity for compassion. So, perhaps today’s lesson, boys and girls, is when we can recognize the suffering of others, compassion can grow in our minds. If not, not so much.