We often forget to see people as people.
I’ve written about this in passing before but I feel it needs more attention, at least in my messy life. Because if you’re anything like me, (if you’re a human being with functioning reactionary senses and a passionate heart that gets you into trouble) you do the same. You forget in your frustration or your pity that the person causing that emotion is neither a mouse nor a monster.
I realized today that with those persons I feel alienated by or betrayed by, I struggle to see them as human. In my processing of the pain, they always end up on one extreme or the other: either they are a vicious monster out to make my life miserable because of their endless problems and vindictive cravings, or they are a whimpering mouse, scurrying away from their own pains and fears. In other words, I can only see them as the prey or the predator.
We have a terrible propensity to dramatize as a defense mechanism. Someone hurts us or offends us and immediately we declare them a monster, for only a cruel creature could commit such atrocities. In our pain, we can only manage to survive. In our anger, we can only manage to keep ourselves at bay. We direct all our energy into calming down enough to keep from becoming a monster ourself. But once the pain and anger are sorted through, we forget to dethrone the predator. And I would be first to admit it’s much easier to leave them there, since my memories scream “oh but they deserve that throne”
This applies not only to the personal betrayals and the Judases in your life, but also to those that offend you that you’ve never met or barely know. That talk show host that is much too conservative, the girl that started dating the guy you were crushing on, that person that harshly critiques your work, that acquaintance that declares a person of “your kind” should live in shame, or even the very idea of a person who stands against your beliefs: we make them into monsters. It’s much easier to keep these kinds of people that we can’t see eye to eye with on the throne, because compassion comes in smaller doses with those you don’t see face to face. But those people have dreams and fears and genuine worth that we destroy in one demeaning blow.
Aren’t they the monster for doing the same to us?
Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking minimizing the monstrosity will do the trick, because the opposite is just as harmful. In our unabridged pity, we demote them to the prey. We look down at the mice we’ve made our enemies into, sighing in disbelief and tsking under our breath, confused at how it got so bad. “It’s just so sad,” we think to ourselves, “they were once so strong and now they’ve fallen so low. What a shame.” We would never dare admit out loud that they are pathetic or weak, because we must keep up the appearance of genuine compassion and care. But deep down we gloat in their demise. When we make mice, we condescendingly communicate that we are more put together, more genuinely liked, more blessed with righteousness. We become self-righteous and Pharisaic.
We mistake pity for compassion, when in reality we are belittlers. We are stripping them of their very humanity. Compassion doesn’t do that: it lifts us up and comforts us. It reminds us that we are not at the end and we are not alone. But pity, it sneers and snickers at the face in the dirt, making it even harder to get back on the horse. No one likes to be pitied: it makes you feel icky and insignificant and alienated, convincing you no one can relate and no one cares. Defensive reactions come from pitied actions, because you can’t feel safe when you’re being pitied. You have to fight and yell to be heard and cared for, because pity is compassion without love.
True compassion will lead us to believe that regardless of what they have done: they are merely a flawed human, like you, and like me. They get angry and they make mistakes and they binge watch The Office when they should do their homework and they feel guilt for mean things they’ve said and they feel compassion and they are good at relationships and they are growing and they are learning how to be healthier. We’ve put our betrayers and our disagreers in categories they cannot fit in, since they are neither mice nor monsters. They are full-fledged human, and in recognizing that we can begin to understand them and forgive them.