When Did Compassion Become A Bad Thing?

Almost forty-three years ago, I met and fell in love with an immigrant. He was twenty-five years old at the time, and recently returned from U. S. military service in Vietnam. He had a green card, as did his parents, and had been in the United States for nineteen years. About six months later, he asked me to marry him. My father objected because he was not a citizen of the United States. Because my sweet man loved me, he studied hard, passed the test and became a naturalized citizen. He chose not to tell his family because it would upset his father, who was unhappy living here in the United States.

As a shy young bride, I really wanted to be accepted by his family, and I spent hours talking to his mother. Over the years, I slowly learned her story, one that continues to astonish me, and pull me deeply into heartfelt respect and love for such an amazing woman. Not long before she passed away a few years ago, we listened to one more story. The story of how she and Pop escaped over the fence from East Germany to West German in 1946, defying death to reach freedom. They each carried a pack weighing about 50 lb. (all they could carry with them), bribed a guard with a pocket watch and a bottle of vodka, and climbed from sure deportation back to Russia for Mom to a poor, but free existence. Mom was three months pregnant with my husband, and Pop agreed to leave his family in order to save his wife and his unborn child.

Mom, her sisters and mother, Oma, escaped from the Ukraine in the midst of WWII. They were from the German community in Russia, that was now being subjected to pogroms, and terrorized on a regular basis. The escaped with a small trunk filled with their possessions, and the clothes they could carry, through Poland and on in to what would become East Germany. Mom served as an interpreter between the Germans and the Russian army during the early occupation of East Germany. Being who she was, her life was placed in jeopardy several times because she would not walk away from her values and do what the Russian military wanted her to do. When she found out her and her family’s names had been placed on a deportation list back to Russia, she knew they needed to get to safety. Her sisters and mother escaped East Germany on a ship bound for camps in Paraguay, and Mom and Pop headed for the border.

Six years later, Pop again agreed to leave his home in order to immigrate to the United States, a country whose politics he didn’t agree with, with Mom and his three children, Karl-Heinz being the oldest. They were sponsored by Mom’s sister, Tante Kathe, received their green cards, and moved to Kansas to start their lives in this country. The family moved to Omaha several years later, and settled there.

Three times, Mom left her familiar surroundings, twice illegally, to get away from violence and horrible living conditions. Twice, Pop left to move his family to a better life.

Pop, according to my husband, refused to learn English more than he needed to. He can only ascribe that to Pop’s dislike of the way the United States divided his country, giving half to the Russians. Mom, on the other hand, worked hard to learn the language of her adopted country and insisted that her children learn and speak it at all times. Have I told you before how amazing she was? All five of her children are living examples of the sacrifice and perseverance of parents who deeply loved their children.

Their life in Omaha wasn’t easy. Pop worked in the meat packing plant until it closed (losing his pension because he was just short of working there 10 years), and then he had his own business painting the three story houses in the Dundee area of Omaha in order to support his family. Karl remembers the actions of people who couldn’t get past their hate of Germany. He remembers waking to swastikas being painted on the side of the garage, with hateful words to go with them, and having to constantly paint over them. He remembers the bullies – in school and in the community.

Why am I telling you this story?

These stories are not unique. They are the stories that could be told of the Irish, the Italians, the Czechs, the Germans before and after the war, and most recently, the Latinos. They are stories born of the desire for freedom, love and a better life. And, they are stories of heartbreak, hate and disrespect. They populate our country’s history like autumn leaves covering a struggling late summer lawn.

And, yet, many who cherish the memories of their parents and their grandparents choose to disregard their own history when they look upon those who are turning to our country for succor today. Most recently, they insist that the children who are illegals crossing the border between Mexico and the United States should be put on the first train back to their country of origin, without the process of refugee status being taken into consideration. Their countries of origin are countries of violence, poverty, and often certain death. It doesn’t seem to matter that they are children, and they deserve our compassion and care. The children are being looked upon as “tickets for the parents to come into this country, refusing to learn our language and expecting to be taken care of by our system of Social Services.”

Yesterday, I was called a “bleeding heart liberal” with some disrespect, and told that I need to wake up to reality. Because the person doing the name calling was a member of my husband’s family, it was particularly poignant. I have such immense respect for my mother-in-law and everything she endured in her life, it was hurtful to me to be belittled by a family member for having the compassion for the children who are with us now as a result of the same type of violence and terror I know Mom went through.

I know that everyone’s reality is colored by perception and the thoughts that they think on a daily basis. We see what we expect to see. When your outlook on life is so negative and bitter that you can’t make any decisions based upon fact, but only on your perceptions, reality is a very dark place to live. When you apply those negative perceptions to a group of people, you create fear and hate. I wonder if the people that are doing that recognize that they are the ones who are creating the problem. It is because of the collusion of fear and hate that we do horrible things to innocent people, especially when we are looking at them as a group rather than individual people with unique and individual stories. Stories that can bring tears to your eyes and cause your heart to swell with grief and compassion for the pain they have endured.

Here is my reality: We are here on this earth to love and care for each other. We are here to take care of the children, and if that means that we help take care of the parents, so be it.

Our purpose on this earth is not to judge who deserves to be given help and who isn’t. It is not to make money by taking it away from those who are working hard to live a better life. It is not to go to war to make sure we have control of natural resources, money and power. It is not to control who gets what rights and benefits because of our religious beliefs (are corporations people, and do they have religious beliefs?). It is not to escape paying taxes by moving revenues from sales within the United States to another country. It is not to treat people as if they are unworthy of respect and dignity. It is quite simply to love and care for each other.

My reality means that compassion is not a dirty word.

If having compassion means I am a bleeding heart liberal, so be it. I will gladly accept that judgment.

Practicing Self-Compassion

This week I am practicing having compassion for myself.  Connecting with the best of me; the person I am here to be.  It is not always easy, and sometimes I show up badly in my human interactions.

It is 2:30am, and I am irritated with another night of less than four hours of sleep.  Byron, aka Big Dog, has had another seizure, with a major loss of bodily functions. He is pacing, searching for something, whining and howling as he talks to us.  Trying to tell us what is going on with him.  I am insisting that Karl call the vet in the morning.  We need something to help Byron – Big Dog is refusing Reiki, getting up and moving as best he can when I place my hands on him; howling when I attempt it long distance.  My patience is stretched.

The lessons and opportunities here for me are similar to those that are offered up for millions of people across this world as they deal with family illness, trauma, babies with colic, and a myriad of other reasons for the pain of loss, lack of sleep, not knowing exactly what to do, and not liking the options in front of them.

Self-compassion is all about acknowledging your feelings, recognizing the pain and suffering, and the resistance to what is.  It is about giving yourself the same compassion you would give to someone else going through similar circumstances.   It is giving yourself a hug, and saying “I understand”.  It isn’t wallowing in the pain, but simply recognizing that it is there and you are dealing as best you can, showing up as you are meant to be.

Some of you might be thinking – this doesn’t measure up to what I’m going through, what my family is going through. It is a dog!

You will be right, it isn’t the same. Byron is a dog; and yet, a member of the family.  A sentient being who cannot readily share his feelings, his fears, and where it hurts.  He is my son’s dog – and I have not yet told Joe of the issues we are facing.  I needed to be sure before I brought that pain into his life.  He loves his dog, as do we.

And, so, I am practicing compassion for myself as I ready myself for the dawn of the day.  Calling the vet, deciding the best course of action, and sharing the news with our son so that he might come love and hold his dog (in hopes that we can get some medication to help Byron) or say good-bye as we wish him a peaceful and brilliant transition.

Self-compassion is a concept that many do not understand or have difficulty with.  They were brought up to be stoic – my husband ,self-critical – me, or to think that self-compassion is an excess of indulgence. Choosing to stay stoic, self-critical or resistant in an invitation to disaster as we face situations that are difficult.  The stress we create for ourselves is tremendous, leading to ramifications to our health.

Today – actually early morning – I am choosing self-compassion as I listen to Big Dog moan and whine as he begins to calm down.  He is no longer howling as only an Alaskan Malamute can.  It is good practice for me.  It helps me more readily and mindfully give compassion to those I have relationships with, and yes, even those I don’t.

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Georgia Feiste, President of Collaborative Transitions Coaching, Inc., located in Lincoln, NE, is a personal growth and leadership coach, writer, and workshop facilitator.  She is also a Usui Reiki Master and EFT practitioner.  Her passion is success grounded in purpose and passion, standards of integrity and priorities in life.  You can also find Georgia on her website, Collaborative Transitions, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.   Georgia may also be reached at (402) 304-1902 if you wish to schedule a 30 minute complementary consultation.


The Dance of Life

The definition of vulnerable I love comes to us from Dr. Maria Nemeth, author of Managing Life’s Energies.  It is: “to allow the winds of life to blow freely over your soul.” To be vulnerable using this definition is to say ‘yes’ to whatever life brings you.

Someone once told me that God sends us opportunities all the time, moment by moment.  We only need to recognize the opportunity for what it is and be ready to reach out our hand (or our heart) to grasp hold of it.  If we fear taking that risk, and hold our hand close to our body or turn away, that opportunity will go right on past us and land in someone else’s hand.

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to be over, it’s about learning how to dance in the rain. ~ Author unknown

Sometimes life’s opportunities are difficult.  They require us to focus, to be intentional and to take mindful and meaningful action.  Many of us will step away from difficult situations out of fear.  We run from the risk, the difficulty, and the energy required to fully experience the stretch and growth that comes from participating fully in the dance.   When we are vulnerable, we take the risk to tackle what has been handed to us, opening ourselves up to being wounded or hurt, “allowing the winds of life to blow freely over our soul”.

The journey between who you once were and who you are now becoming, is where the dance of life really takes place. ~ Barbara DeAngelis

It comes down to trust.  Trusting in yourself and the Source of all that is.  By saying ‘yes’, by taking the risk, you step into your power and move freely and gracefully in the flow of life. It does not mean that it may not be difficult, but trust and allowing yourself to be vulnerable gives you strength you may not have known you had.

In my mind, this means sharing your thoughts and feelings, your joys and your fears.  It means daring to be who you are at all times.  It means living your values, even when it is difficult.  It means opening your heart and your mind to accept others where they are, and to be willing to honor them as they take their own risks.  It means being willing to listen to what others have to say, and honor that it is right for them at this point in their journey.

Most importantly, it means embracing the curliness of life, looking for the power and the good in everything that happens.  And, dancing the dance of life for all that it is, even when it is raining.

Do we always succeed?  Not always.  But it also means having compassion for ourselves when we fail – because we tried and we were willing.

Georgia Feiste, President of Collaborative Transitions Coaching, Inc., located in Lincoln, NE, is a personal growth and leadership coach, writer, and workshop facilitator.  She is also a Usui Reiki Master and EFT practitioner.  Her passion is success grounded in purpose and passion, standards of integrity and priorities in life.  You can also find Georgia on her website, Collaborative Transitions, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.   Georgia may also be reached at (402) 304-1902 if you wish to schedule a 30 minute complementary consultation.