Sunday, September 5, 2010

On Compassion

My submission to the TPGA site was very well received. Parents and professionals alike seemed to get what I was trying to say, and were open to and grateful for the message. Well, except one. Much to my dismay, one teacher had some very negative things to say. They didn’t seem directed at my piece per se. It seemed more like his/her comments were directed at special needs parents in general. While I felt the essay was about compassion for parents… a plea for understanding and grace… he/she seemed to feel like I was a) attacking teachers, b) excusing bad behavior, or c) all of the above.

I will admit this one commenter hurt me deeply. So much so, I am a little gun-shy even now to post this. See, I was perplexed. I didn’t understand how he/she got that from my essay. I reread it several times, trying to ‘hear’ what this commenter heard. I had a hard time even stretching it to where he/she went. And apparently, other commenters felt the same way as myself, not understanding why this teacher reacted so negatively and with such outward anger and hostility. The essay was an appeal for gentleness and compassion. Not receiving that was really a blow. It took me a while to process the whole event, to consider my response and decide what it all meant.

But I believe this teacher’s reaction actually proved my point. And not in the way you might be thinking.

Compassion is not easy.

Compassion is not simple.

Compassion is not only for the good people. The likable people. The easy people.

Compassion is also for… and possibly most needed by… the angry people. The difficult people. The ones who are not nice, or amiable, or positive. Compassion is needed by the people who don’t ask for it, may not appreciate it, and may not return kindness with kindness.

Compassion is the deeper understanding that all humans suffer. We all have pain. In the practice of compassion, we need to take ourselves out of the equation. It is not about me anymore. It is not about my hurts, my sadness, my pain. To practice compassion is to set those aside, and be open and accept that others' pain is real and true, and valid for them. This is not an excuse for bad behavior. Bad behavior must be confronted. Rather, having compassion allows you to deal more effectively, more calmly, and with more grace, the misbehavior of others.

It is SO MUCH easier said than done. When I read the teacher’s comments, I did want to criticize. I did want to lash out. I questioned whether I should keep the post up, whether I could emotionally handle the negative comments. The teacher’s negative comments… this one person… weighed heavy on my heart. The instinct, then, is to react with my pain. It is so hard not to go there… to go to the Angry Place.

However when I took the time to read between the lines, to look past the words, I saw someone who must be in pain. I see in her words anger, defensiveness and hostility. To lash out, to spend the time and energy to post angry words, words not meant to build bridges or foster understand… that must come from a heart in pain. Just like some parents, maybe even myself someday.  Disappointment, powerlessness, and a lack of peace? I do not know. But I do believe it wasn’t from my simple little essay on being gentle with parents.

So I have compassion for this teacher, for what she suffers. I hope that she finds a way to have peace and compassion for all the people in her life, even the people who upset her, anger her, come at her with fangs and claws. Whether she deserves it or not doesn't matter.  Indeed, I wish others (parents and professionals alike) to be able to find peace through compassion. To do so is a gift to others, and a gift to oneself.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” -- the Dalai Lama


KWombles said...

So very well done, Pia. When we try to see from the other's perspective, when we realize that often it is not our words he or she is reacting to but to something in his/her own life, we can set aside our own anger and hurt. It takes practice, and it takes accepting that our initial reaction is to respond in kind.

We must build bridges not only to the other parents who face similar challenges but also to all the support personnel who work with our children, to realize they come to their work from their own lives and are often in as great of need as we are for grace.

Cheryl D. said...

Wow! I didn't realize that the compassion essay was your submission. It was excellent! You can't let one psycho comment ruin your day. You hit on a nerve--that's success. You also have to remember all the supportive comments. I only read the one negative comment because Squid lectured people on her blog to only be positive on TGTA's site. Lots of luck with that! LOL!

I've been so blessed in that every professional I've dealt with has been nice and understanding. Many have asked how I'm doing and making sure I have stress outlets. I'm so glad I haven't run into any "professionals" like that teacher.

While I do understand that parents can be a difficult lot, many teachers get why and cut the occasional slack. I know they have a difficult job too and cut them some slack also (as long as it's only on occasion!) Good communication goes a long way on both sides! LOL

Anonymous said...

I agree with Kim. Well done. I am very impressed by your grace.

Lynn said...

My knee jerk reaction is to lash right back, but I know that what you write is correct. I'm still new enough to this whole blogosphere thing that I haven't yet developed the suit of armor to let stuff roll off of me...but that's the way I am with anything. I'm trying to be better about it, and your post gives great perspective.

Pia said...

Thanks all!! I know it sounds like I am very Zen and centered and all that, but lets face it.... I probably used lots and lots and lots of inappropriate words the first couple days afterwards. However, since I use lots of inappropriate words all the time, hard to tell it from any other day. :P

I guess I am trying, which is all we can do.

@Lynn: One thing I have learned from all this... it is really easy to be mean on the internet. Armor building underway!!!

Niksmom said...

Ah, but the difference, Pia, is that you used those inappropriate words offline. :-)

I said it in an email to someone else (re: TPGA post), but I need to tell you, too. YOU are a class act. Thanks for being a good example. :-)

Oh, and as the mom of a 209-day NICU veteran (27wk, 530g at birth) who is nearly seven? THANK YOU for the work you do. It is unetterably difficult some days, I know. It takes a special person to do what you do.

pixiemama said...

Compassion is very difficult. Extend it whenever and wherever you can, and whenever it feels right.


KAL said...

I loved your post on TPGA, just wanted you to know that! It really resonated for me.

Steven said...

Dear Pia,
Thank you for your essay on compassion for parents, and then your heart-full response to the angry teacher. I am a fairly new speech therapist working in the schools, and this year (my 4th) I have been blessed with a mostly Autistic (across the spectrum) student caseload - and I am scared. Scared that I won't be able to be of service in any meaningful way. Scared that I will hurt my student's parents/caregivers because I have not heard, really heard, their concerns and needs. Scared that I will think I "know it all" when, in fact, I know so very little. Afraid of my arrogance and afraid I will lack compassion. So I want you to know how much I appreciate your words. I have heard them, I believe, and they resonate deeply within me. Thank you for this gift you have given me. Best Wishes, Steven Schultz, SLP.

Karen said...

Dear Pia,
Thank you so very much for your posts. YOU are a teacher, in the truest sense of the word! You have a gift with words - to inspire, to teach gently and wisely, to make us stop and think.


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