The realization that another person wishes to harm and hurt you can not undermine genuine compassion–a compassion based on the clear recognition of that person as someone who is suffering, who has the natural and instinctive desire to seek happiness and overcome suffering, just like oneself.
~Dalai Lama on compassion
That’s a mouthful, isn’t it? It’s a lot to take in and a significant challenge to practice. Because when people lash out at us, all we can feel is the pain.
I’m thinking of someone I know who is consumed by hatred and bitterness for another, at what should be a happy time in his life. For years he has gone out of his way to hurt the other, in large ways and small. What’s so interesting is that she didn’t wrong him at all. HE wronged her. A fact.
There’s a theory I learned in college called cognitive dissonance. The gist of it is that there’s always a pull toward trying to balance inconsistent thoughts and attitudes. I’m sure he doesn’t think of himself as a cruel person, and it makes him uncomfortable to act out in those ways and still see himself as a nice person. To rationalize his bad behavior and bring his internal state into balance, he has to demonize her. “She deserves it,” is how he keeps emotionally balanced.
Yes, it’s peculiar but it’s human nature. It’s almost unbelievable what people will rationalize in order to achieve a state of internal balance, as warped as it might be. He didn’t always hate her. In fact, he loved her. But now that he has behaved badly, he has to rearrange his thinking about the situation.
The object of his hatred is someone I know well, too, and I’ve watched her go through a multitude of emotions and transitions. YEARS of pain, as you might expect. Sleepless nights, tears, racking her brain for what she might have done to deserve it.
The answer is NOTHING. Not a thing.
In a world where so little is pure, this woman is pure. She comes from pure love. Is she perfect? No. But her guiding light has always been love and caring for others.
It’s no surprise that years down the line, she arrived at forgiveness.
“I feel sorry for his pain,” she said to me not too long ago.
If you knew how badly he’d treated her, you’d be just as amazed as I am that she reached forgiveness. That she could see his pain through her own. Hey, it wasn’t easy. It took years. But that’s where she ended up. At forgiveness and love.
Now, with any luck, few of us will encounter someone who goes out of their way to hurt us. But most of us have felt the sting of a friend’s betrayal or bad behavior. It hurts.
But, as the Dalai Lama points out, the healthiest and most loving response is to look beyond our hurt and view the other’s humanity through the lens of compassion and love.