I had what I like therapists like to refer to as a “negative interaction” this morning. In other words, something really pissed me off!
It was basically a verbal exchange with someone who I know extremely well and it was a continuation of a negative pattern I’ve had to experience and deal with ever since I met this particular person. The details of the interaction are irrelevant. My emotional response, however, is quite relevant to the point at hand.
Predictably, my initial reaction was a welling up of seething anger. Few things make me angrier than when someone puts themselves and their desires before others, particularly if those others are a) loved ones and b) children. And when the same person displays this pattern of behavior time and again it sends a cue to my consciousness.
The cue is, “Get really really angry!”.
Fortunately for me, my initial anger response was almost immediately followed by a moment of reflection that went something like this:
- Why are you getting angry? You know this is a more or less predictable pattern of behavior, and if there’s one thing your 30+ years of poker have taught you it’s that you should not be surprised, much less angered, by predictable patterns.
- You know that this person grew up in a household were putting oneself before others – including loved ones and children – was the norm not the exception, so why would you be surprised if this individual defers to that pattern of behavior from time to time?
- And if that’s the case, shouldn’t you feel compassion instead of anger? After all, like all humans, this person is going to sometimes be a slave to behavioral patterns that were likely formed during their formative years. They’re probably not even conscious of what is occurring. And everyone has their frailties, including yourself.
Surprisingly, my anger almost instantly dissipated. I was left feeling a mix of bewilderment, embarrassment, humility, but also profound calm.
This leads me to the real point of this particular blog post, which is that while most of us like to tell ourselves that we’re quite compassionate, in practice, virtually all of us are not compassionate at least of the time and in particular contexts.
Or simply put, compassion means compassion even for Donald Trump.
Those of you who know me know that I am far from a Donald Trump fan or apologist. In fact, few human beings have rubbed me in as a wrong a way as this guy. His behavior has even driven me to do something I’ve never done before; create my own hashtag. But I’m coming to realize that if any good will come from his unlikely and mostly catastrophic ascension to the United States presidency it will come in the form of a teaching tool for helping the world at large – and particularly his many detractors – to learn the true meaning of compassion.
Compassion doesn’t mean acceptance. I don’t accept Donald Trump’s actions.
Compassion doesn’t mean understanding. I don’t pretend to understand Donald Trump’s behavior.
Compassion doesn’t mean leniency. I expect Donald Trump to pay for any legal transgressions.
Compassion doesn’t mean superstition. I don’t believe that Donald Trump will get karmic retribution or go to hell.
Compassion simply means accepting that like every other human being that has ever walked the Earth, Donald Trump was once a baby. He’s prisoner to both his genes and his upbringing. He is not a blank slate.
Compassion for Trump is no easy task. In fact, it is a thoroughly confusing and potentially maddening endeavor. But one that, in my humble opinion, is worth undertaking if for no other reason than diffusing the tower of terror and anger that his actions and that of his comrades manifests in those of us that are of a more progressive and compassionate constitution.
Because as Mark Twain once said, “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”