A View From the Watchroom
Barry K. Wyrick, MS, MBA
Chief Operating Officer
Compassion and Acceptance (11/15/13)
My last couple of posts have been targeted mainly at professional counselors and some of the things with which we struggle. For today’s post, I would like to address a broader audience—this post is just for people.
I was reminded this week of just how small our world has become and how accessible we are. I received a message from a high school friend here on this blog, who found me through Google. I had not seen or talked to this person in 35 years. As he was bringing me up to date on his life, he wrote something that touched me and has stuck in my mind, and I decided to share it with all of you. This friend wrote that perhaps the best answer to all of the ups and downs that this life brings us is to express compassion and acceptance in all things.
We, as a people and as a culture, are quick to be critical and attach blame. If you doubt me, just turn on CNN for about five minutes—they are no longer a news station, but instead are blame-mongers. We look to identify what people have done wrong or who is to blame for a problem. Individually, when we experience problems in our lives, we frequently look to find whose fault it is—and we usually don’t have to work very hard to find our fall guy.
I was having a discussion with several of my counseling staff members today about an understanding of human behavior. In this discussion, I remembered one of the principle concepts in William Glasser’s Choice Theory—people choose what they do because they believe that it is the best choice to meet their needs as they understand them at the time. This is not to say that our choices always work out for the best for us—we don’t have to look very far into our own past to identify choices that we have made that didn’t work out so well. Instead, this idea suggests that we always make the choices that we make because we believe at that time that those choices will best meet the complexity of needs that we have. If we can fully understand the depth of this idea, we will be filled with compassion for and acceptance of others in our lives. We can begin to believe that all of us who are on this big boat are just paddling as hard as we can, trying to go where we want to go.
If we believe that people make the best choices that they believe that they have, then we can begin to understand others. When we observe someone who appears to have made bad choices, we can realize how desperate their situation must be to have made those choices. And that understanding is the beginning of compassion. Rather than being critical of the other, we understand and actually hurt a little bit along with them—our heart goes out to them. So when I see someone who is raging, rather than becoming angry myself, I have to step back and think about how trapped that person must feel to believe that rage is the only option. And when I can see that person as being trapped rather than raging, I can feel the desire to help that person rather than being put off by the behavior. That desire to help—the desire to engage the other person—is the essence of compassion.
If we believe that people make the best choices that they believe that they have, then we can also begin the process of acceptance of others—just the way that they are. Most of us use “conditional acceptance,” where our acceptance of others depends upon whether the other does what we want them to do. True acceptance is not conditional, and it does not judge and criticize. I may not be able to fully understand what other people’s complex needs are that lead them to the choices that they make, but I can understand that they are acting to meet those needs. And as much as I want others to accept how I seek to get my needs met, I need to understand and accept that desire in others. Just because others express their needs differently than I do and chose different behaviors to meet those needs than I do does not mean that they are deserving of my criticism and disdain. Instead, it means that they are worthy of my desire to gain an understanding of their needs and their choices—and I must accept them as they are in order for me to gain that understanding.
None of this is to say that we cannot change—and that we cannot help people that we care about to change. All of us can learn from the consequences of the choices that we make, and we may learn to make choices to meet our needs that work out better for us. In my experience, the ability to develop compassion and acceptance is the key to being able to help others begin the process of change, as we all have experienced how criticism creates distance that nearly precludes change. The other benefit that I see of living a life filled with compassion and acceptance is that it becomes a much more peaceful life. If I can care about others and accept them as they are, I no longer have to shoulder the responsibility of the universe in making everyone do what I believe is right. Instead, I can get to the Zen place of tending my own garden and allowing others to tend theirs.