Compassion Is In the Details: #1000Speak

posted in: Inspiration, Parenting | 35

If you were to ever secretly record me watching television, you’d see a lot of this:The face of

I am a crier. Just a few days ago, I found myself crying at that State Farm commercial where the guy keeps saying he’s never going to do something (get married, have kids, drive a minivan…), then it cuts to a shot of him on the couch with his sleeping wife and two kids saying, “I’m never letting go.” Those four words crawled right out of the television, down my throat, and wrestled themselves into nice fat lump for me to get all choked up on. That’s right, people. I cried at a STATE FARM COMMERCIAL. You can add that to the very long list of culprits which have made me weepy, including standing ovations, wedding toasts, the song “Gracie” by Ben Folds, cute old men doing just about anything, and the graduation episode of Saved By the Bell. (Damn you, Mr. Belding! I always knew you loved Zack best.)

While I often poke fun at my over-emotional side, someone once told me it was simply a sign that I was a compassionate person…that I was easily moved by the plight of my fellow man and woman. I took the compliment and secretly patted myself on the back. Hell yeah, I’m compassionate! Score another point in getting to the end game of Heaven. Before long, Kelly Suellentrop and Mother Teresa will be practically synonymous. To prove it, witness me ugly cry while watching an episode of Parenthood. I’m feeling all the deep feels for the Bravermans.

But if I really look at my life, how often am I truly compassionate when it matters? And I’m not just talking about the big stuff.  Let’s face it: it doesn’t always take a lot of effort to be compassionate on a grand scale, because we usually aren’t doing it alone. When natural disasters hit, when telethons are begging to help sick children, or when tragedy is put on the world stage, we know the right move to make because we are people who are mostly good. We can shake our heads in sympathy with others, send our dollars to give some aid, and spread the word through organized movements. Those are all worthy things, and we should continue to do them. But in those situations, we can give surprisingly little of ourselves and still make an impact on a larger sense of global humanity. Compassion from afar is still compassion, but it is also a little like crying at the movie Sophie’s Choice. We can easily be moved by something that does not actually require much sacrifice on our part, and then we get to move on.

The real question is how often do I show compassion at all those tiny little moments that make up a lifetime, not just for myself, but for the people with whom I interact? The times that involve me putting aside the ways I might be inconvenienced, annoyed, or hurt. The times that challenge my beliefs. The times that are not simply jumping on a bandwagon, but doing something that might only be noticed by the person on the receiving end…if even that. The times that actually require some type of sacrifice from me. Yeah, I’m not always so good at that.

Compassion is usually not on the table when my daughter has to suffer some terrible consequence for forgetting a school assignment because geez, it’s not my day to remember all your crap. I am not exactly compassionate when my son hurts himself doing something I repeatedly told him not to do, because I told you so. Compassion is scarce when I make sure someone knows I feel put out after reluctantly agreeing to help because seriously, it is eating up my only free time this week to watch all my DVRed shows. I am not always compassionate towards the elderly driver going at a snail’s pace in front of me because for the love of God, man, McDonald’s stops serving breakfast in five minutes and my day really needs to be fueled by a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit with a large Diet Coke. Compassion was not what I expressed for Kanye West in my last blog post, because some people need to know when to just sit the ‘eff down and let a man accept his award. And I am certainly not compassionate when my aging dog defecates on the carpet for the umpteenth time in a month, even though I know deep down she probably wouldn’t do it if she could help it. (I say probably because there’s always the small chance she really does take sick delight in watching my gag reflexes fire on overload, as I scoop up her poop with a plastic bag over my hand, then try not to use that specific hand for eating the rest of the day because I swear there is still the faint ghost smell of feces on it.)

Those things don’t seem like life-changing moments. Does showing compassion towards people during such inconsequential incidents matter that much? Can’t I just make up for it when I do my part to end world hunger or raise money for a school? Won’t that translate enough compassion to others and, most importantly, to my children?

photo credit: foot print via photopin (license)
photo credit: foot print via photopin (license)

Here’s the thing: Compassion is in the details.

I truly believe the world is sustained by the tiniest acts of compassion, just as a beach is composed of the smallest grains of sand.Tweet: The world is sustained by the smallest acts of compassion, as a beach is made of the tiniest grains of sand #1000Speak http://ctt.ec/L_8YB+

Not only do those grains come together to create something greater than themselves, but they are transient, able to be carried elsewhere in plastic pails or between toes, to bring the beach to places it otherwise wouldn’t be. Yet if the beach was simply made of one giant piece of sand, it would surely be impressive…but it could only exist in that one place. No one could bring a piece of the beach with them.

In the same way, grand scale compassion doesn’t always trickle down to promote the more mundane tiny acts of compassion. Because it requires less self-sacrifice, we are left with a false sense that we have already done our part. It’s like taking the “easy A” course. On the other hand, showing compassion in the details that tend to demand more of us not only makes a difference to those around us, but it goes on to breed compassion in the big picture. If I can suck it up and get over the inconvenience and raging assault to my delicate senses that comes with cleaning up some poo without yelling at my dog that she’s a good-for-nothing nuisance, then donating a Thanksgiving meal to a homeless shelter is a piece of cake. If you’ve ever smelled dog poo, you know that first incident requires way more compassion.

I want my children to see me doing more of these small acts of compassion. The hard acts of compassion. I want them to watch me building my own beach. Then I will give them their own grains of sand to take along wherever life leads, and hope they build castles and shorelines of their own, one seemingly inconsequential moment of compassion at a time. And I will probably cry when they do…

…mostly because it will remind me of when Barbara Hershey dies in the movie Beaches. I mean, I am pretty compassionate after all.10409230_10204463021949134_146567715043269542_n

This post is part of the 1000 Voices for Compassion movement, aimed at getting 1000 bloggers to write about compassion on the same day. (I’m a day late. Go figure!) See more posts here or simply search for the hashtag #1000Speak.

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35 Responses

  1. I love this Kelly! You really hit on the necessity of self sacrifice in compassion. I donate money, I do the 5k walks, I make my son jump rope to raise money but it’s things I do that leave me feeling a little messy that humble me and make me so grateful to be alive and of service that it sticks like sand in my pants (to continue your metaphor). I want my kids to know what it means to get messy too.

  2. I too am a “crier”. Example – I tear up at the Star Spangled Banner..EVERY.TIME. I know what the ending is…I can usually make it to “land of the free” before the tears well-up without any control. And if they have a fly-over to finish it off, well, get me some tissue because my sleeve isn’t enough. WTH is wrong with me?

    I think we all struggle to muster up that last grain of compassion for those that are on our last nerve (like that student who asks “what page is that on” immediately after you just said “turn to page 452”). I will try to keep this in mind Monday morning.

    • OMG!!! Yes. That is a real test of compassion 🙂 I will send compassionate thoughts to you on Monday.

      And it is really nice to know I am not alone with the crying. At least I’m not the only one looking like a hot mess at totally random times. Fist-bump for having leaky eyes 🙂

  3. I think the true measure of a person is who they are when the world isn’t looking. What they do when there’s no witnesses, when doing ‘good’ or ‘right’ will go unnoticed and unremarked, save for their own internal landscape.

    • Absolutely. Because that is the only time we can truly be ourselves. We need to make sure we can live with ourselves more than worrying if others can live with us. Because if we can live with ourselves, chances are, others can too.

  4. Tracy @ Crazy As Normal

    Transient compassion may be my new favorite thing.

  5. You are so right. I do the easy things. I donate, I send money. I’m going to work on this. I want my kids to see me doing more and I want to do more even when they aren’t watching. And thanks for making me laugh, too. You have found the perfect mix of funny and serious and important and a lot of other good words my brain can’t find right now. 🙂

    • You are probably compassioned-out 🙂 Knowing you, you have been reading all of these posts and leaving thoughtful comments all over the place. I have been reading some, and it really is so refreshing to have something so positive reaching across the internet. Thanks for getting me on board with this. You are a good-hearted, sweet lady!

  6. This is lovely, especially the image of the small acts of compassion being like grains of sand that you take with you when you leave the big beach. I’m so glad you posted this in time for #1000Speak.

    • Thank you so much. I’m glad I got it in at the last minute as well. I mean, I knew about this for a month, but somehow time just got away from me. (Code for: I’m a procrastinator.)

  7. I swear I can kinda smell something now, too. Not kidding. That’s how I’m compassionate—I unite in gagging with you … all the way across states.

  8. Excellent post!

    You brought out the essence of what it ACTUALLY means to be compassionate beautifully!

    Thank you so much for sharing! 🙂

  9. I think you’re channeling the Dalai Lama here! Awesome post. (From one crier to another.)

  10. Kelly, this is beautiful! I want to build a beach, too!!

  11. Wonderful post, from a very compassionate blogger… Kelly, you have a heart the size of… well, Kanye’s ego. 😉

    • Whoa. I think you are giving me too much credit. Nobody has THAT much compassion. See, there I go dissin’ on Kanye again, proving my own point 😉 But well played, Dawn, well played

  12. Reblogged this on Parents Helping Parents.

  13. LOL!! You’re so cute about admitting on crying over the state farm commercial! And, honestly, you’re right about many of us clucking our tongues, donating and then moving on! It’s time we pause and question ourselves, our priorities and what really, really matters!

  14. Oh I’m a crier too…I guess things affect me too easily..And yes I get angry too very easily..Probably emotional is the word for me…Compassion is not about just joining a moment and speaking about it, it’s definitely something more…

    Random Thoughts Naba..Why No One Talks About Compassion Anymore?….

  15. I’ve written stories about compassion here itssofai.wordpress.com; they are stories of people like you who have shown compassion. You got a wonderful story here too! Compassion is a divine and feminine attribute. We all benefit from others’ compassion and others’ have blessed our lives. I wish I could cry easily, but I guess it comes from being raised to be strong by my dad not to cry. So, I’m always embarrassed when I see people cry for whatever reason and I wonder why I don’t when I should…I guess it’s complicated.

    • But crying isn’t really a true sign of compassion anyway. Our actions are. I often wish I did not cry so easily, so I am a little envious of you.

      • you are right actions speak louder, but i think i need to shed some tears at some point when i’m sad:):) btw, i’d like you to be a follower of my posts too; i’m one of urs.

  16. I once cried at a cell phone commercial. I cannot watch 5 seconds of an SPCA or Humane Society commercial without choking up. Its our TV time, we can cry if we want to 🙂

    PS: I am your newest follower and love your blog. You are a great writer!

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