Compassion? Know When to Walk Away
Look at the photo. I am inverted. I am focused, you can see the strain. If I lose balance, I not only fall out of the pose, I will also fall off the kitchen counter. Do not try to help. I have an awareness of my body and balance in space. My stability in this moment depends on stillness and silence.
We struggle when we see pain. We are a compassionate society; we want to show we care. The need to help is overwhelming. We feel we’re supposed to have an action. You’re in pain; we are supposed to do something. So we plunge in with hopes we will figure it out while unintentionally upsetting a very delicate balance. As people go through things, we need to know when to leave them alone.
Thoughts around, what can be done, what can I do are natural. But, we have to ask is it about me or is it about the person in pain. How do we determine when the help is needed and if we are the person to do it.
A group was going out after work and invited a peer. She declined and started to cry. Most would have said, what happened, what happened, what happened? Come out with us, you will feel better. I simply said let me know if you need anything. Obviously something had shaken her. It’s hard to fight the need to fix. A month later she shared the situation and thanked me for giving her the time and space she needed. There is a need to get information to determine how or if we can help. But, our curiosity and a desire to help do not override or give permission to become a part of a personal struggle. Often what is needed is stillness and silence.
Once revealed there was nothing that could have been done in the situation with my peer. Pressing for answers, in a desire to help, would have been disastrous. I was not versed in the subject as someone who could give comfort and to have the story retold in that moment would have broken her more. Those times when something unexpected happens, there is not a formula of what to do. We have heard the expression, it’s not about you, but do we understand it? It’s difficult to know when to subdue our curiosity in support of the other person. Some things are a need to know basis.
Compassion is knowing the difference between interfering and actually helping. Many times, help is simply doing nothing. Let them be in stillness and silence.
Note: I wrote this piece in December of 2014. This week, I was reminded of this once again.