Sympathy is Fragile

Any well-intent individual would think sympathy is helpful in dissipating another’s pain, but often beyond our realization, the way we convey our condolences can cause more harm than good.

Communication is a very fragile construct. The way words are conceptualized and delivered is far different from how they are interpreted and received. What people often fail to realize when they convey a message is that there are innumerable, highly interlinked contextual factors that sculpt the way someone hears what we say. Objective words serve a function of formality, at most, but subjectivity sits at the heart of every message. The tone with which words are delivered, the context under which they are said, and the manner in which they are pieced together is what underlies the true severity of their impact.

As such, “It must be such a difficult time you are going through,” and “I could only imagine how tough that is,” and “I’m here for you,” don’t always cradle others’ hurt the way we wish they would. Words are limiting, especially on the grounds of sympathy. They try to encapsulate what often cannot be conveyed, and in doing so, break down walls that were already plastered with so much reparative tape to begin with.

While sympathies are important, they certainly demand a very mindful and courteous consideration of many factors before they can be constructed effectively. Sometimes, actions speak louder than words, and a silent, open ear, coupled with a genuine hug or gentle pat on the shoulder, can speak a thousand sympathies that words would never be able to enunciate.

Embracing Today

We are a people of yesterday, caught up in the remorse that taints our spirit, the regret of deeds undone, and the sorrow of days past. We worry over the could’ves that never manifested, the would’ves that were left unanswered, and the should’ves that remained as nothing but distant possibilities. We laugh at the good days, and smile at the memories that bring us closer to home, yet we paradoxically feel far as we’re reminded of their timely distance. While joyful over the happenings of the past, we are pained by history’s undeniable ephemerality, of memories unable to be relived.

The past can be a painful thing. But it grounds us; it’s our history. Indeed, it can serve us a beautiful purpose. Yet we sometimes live in it so much that we forget about tomorrow.

And then we become a people of tomorrow, caught up in the fray of all that needs to be, the worry of what’s to come, and the tension of what the next day holds. We tell ourselves “all good things are worth waiting for,” but attach ourselves so vehemently to the outcome that we forget what patience is all about. We are always seeking destinations, sometimes at the expense of appreciating where we already stand.

The future can be a painful thing. But it inspires us; it gives us something to look forward to, and it brings meaning to hope. Indeed, it can serve us a beautiful purpose. Yet we sometimes live in it so much that still, we forget about something else.

We wait for the future, and cry over the past, but, strangely enough, we sometimes forget about that beautiful, timeless thing that exists, will exist, and always has existed forever and always right between them: the now.

We should never neglect tomorrow, for it is the humble home of possibility, and we should never neglect yesterday, for it is the bearer of the treasures we carry with us every day. But, we should do today a favour, and gently treat it with the same ‘love’ we so thoughtfully give to both our days past and our days yet to come.

Because in the end, today is the glue that binds the past and the future. And through binding them, time earns its meaning.

The Most Beautiful Source of Self-Esteem

In the competitive worlds of university and high school, I think a lot of us make the mistake of comparing ourselves far too often to others. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to see where we stand in comparison with our peers, but the issue is when these comparisons become too pervasive and destroy our own self-worth.

We are all psychically fragile, and this fragility coupled with our constant subjection to so much pressure in our day-to-day lives makes us very easily breakable. It’s sad to say, and this is a social psychological phenomenon so I’m not merely basing this on observation, but we indeed look to others in hopes of bolstering our own self-worth. We draw comparisons every day, in hopes of finding a way to place ourselves above others and nourish our self-esteem.

Yes this is important at times, but don’t let these comparisons override your sense of individual spirit. Find confidence in who you are, love yourself and your capabilities, and strive for betterment in comparison to the one and only person who would never wish for you to feel judged or demeaned in the eyes of others: yourself. Cling to the hope that you can be better than who you were yesterday, and move forward with the determination to make it happen.

Each day is a chance to prove your own self wrong, and this is arguably the one and only way you can boost your own self-esteem without ever needing to lower someone else’s. It is perfectly, and paradoxically too, selfish and selfless at once. You are your own source of humility, and you are also your own source of ego, so choose wisely how you wish to make use of that.

Ultimately, believe in yourself, and find confidence in the fate that life presents to you every day, in conjunction with the choices you make that help shape it.

Setting standards is necessary to gauge our success, but using others as a bearing of comparison can be degenerative when done in excess. To maintain sanity and bolster your self-esteem fruitfully, focus on making your own self a source of comparison, and beat the you of yesterday with each passing day.

Thinking Twice Before You Speak

We may not always be aware of the harm we cause to others. In fact, most of the time when it wasn’t our intent, we’ll never know the impact our words may have had on the receiving end.

Small jokes in the midst of conversation can carry a paining impact on the psyche of a passerby, or a person in the conversation who, beyond your knowledge, may have been hurt by an offensive comment you unknowingly said.

When we say things with harmless intent, it’s akin to firing bullets in the sky in celebration. We don’t mean to shoot those bullets at people. We just mean to enunciate our joy. For many, it’s a celebratory cultural act. But it’s done heedlessly, and in so doing, we often fail to recognize the potential aftermath of our actions.

Those bullets we fire indeed go long and far, well out of sight. And out of sight, unbeknownst to us, those bullets may just hit people we never meant to harm. The only way to avoid causing such pain is not to hope that people walk with shields above their heads, or remain in close-roofed buildings – no, rather, it’s through not firing those bullets in the first place.

Caution when speaking is a first step. Conscientiousness when thinking is another. And collectively, these actions allow for us to be more considerate in what we say and do, ultimately saving us from needless damage to sensitive others.

An arabic proverb beautifully articulates the idea here, “open your mouth only if what you are going to say is more beautiful than silence.”

The tongue has two seals – our teeth, and our lips, for a very metaphorically important reason. “Think twice before you speak,” is an adage we all ought to live by. 

The Hurricane Survivor

Hurricane.jpg

I recall a story from nearly a decade ago, which, in retrospect, serves as an empowering source of motivation for me and many others. Having not updated my blog for a while, I thought it’d be a good  chance to put it in writing. Here goes!

About a month into sixth grade, we had a new student join our class. Inevitably as youngsters we felt a sense of superiority over the “new kids” because we knew more than them, had more friends than them, and basically knew the ins and outs of our middle school’s culture better than they ever could. But this superiority was, as it often is, coupled with a strong sense of empathy as we tried to comfort them and help them integrate into the new world they stepped foot in.

There was a Sri Lankan girl who joined our class in sixth grade, whose English was close to the level of a very young child at best. She had a hard time communicating with us, and the teacher herself was troubled with taking on such a difficult student.

Over time, though, her English skills grew, and many genuinely kind and compassionate students gladly befriended her. She integrated more and more into the school system. She adapted a stronger cultural understanding. And math, being a nearly universal language, was a skill she was already largely adept at!

It was only a couple of months until the end of the school year that I came across the news of her tragic history. She had recently immigrated to Canada after her parents’ lives were taken by – and my memory is faint here – the tsunami which I think was caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake.

She came to Canada with her sister, and settled in hopes of starting a new and better life in a country that has been built upon the diversity of its inhabitants.

I honestly don’t remember much about her, but I remember one thing, which was that she would smile more than any other student in the class. I was one of the students who was assigned to tutor the ESL kids in our class, and I remember she would laugh the most, too. She would laugh when something funny came up, and she would laugh when she messed up, too.

Despite having shouldered the burden of such a drastic life change, and the loss of the most beloved people in her life, she walked forward with tremendous optimism and unwavering hope. Her perseverance and willingness to keep pushing forward despite all that happened is what defined her to be a true inspiration for so many people in our class – for those that took the time to notice.

After sixth grade I switched middle schools, so I never followed up to see how she was doing. But I’m still convinced that in grade 9, against all odds when I was walking home from the bus stop, I saw her. Because when I waved hello, she returned the gesture (with much confusion). But it was that same blue backpack and that smile far bigger than the afflictions that flooded her history, that left me convinced it had to be her.

My one regret is not asking to confirm.

But alas, the lessons learned remain strong as ever. I pray that she is well, and that her optimism and positivity serves as a lesson for all of us.

When the tides get rough and your past torments you day by day, remember to keep your head up high, because the very beauty of yet another day to be alive in and of itself is enough reason to smile all the worries away. 🙂

The Compassion Train: Strength Through Unity

At times you will feel the pressures of life’s endless demands pushing you into places you never thought you would have to venture in. Whether they be mental prisons or physical roadblocks, they’ll pester you and infuse you with a sense of hopelessness as failure repeats, day by day, feeling all too familiar through the passing of time. At times you’ll just want to give up, sleep through it all, run away from these hurdles that do nothing but put you in further disdain. 

And in these moments of grave hopelessness, you may find, like an oasis in an arid desert, a person or a thing – some source of empowering motivation – that impossibly livens your spirit and makes you feel new again. Where you once thought you could never muster up the courage to get back up again, you suddenly find yourself in a renewed state of peace. You feel strong yet again, ready to take on life’s greatest challenges, endowed with the confidence to face each day boldly and honourably. Never had you thought this was possible on your own, but through unity you have suddenly found resolve once again.

Enamoured by the compassion of this kind spirit that lifted you up in one of your lowest times, you are struck with the puzzle of how to enunciate the gratitude you hold for them. In those moments, you’ll realize that there is no better way to say thank you, than to do the same thing for someone else. And in those moments, you’ll want to honour their compassion to you, by remaining courageous each and every day, and pushing forward with the deepest of conviction, through every hurdle that comes your way. You honour them, by using their encouragement to kindle the same source of encouragement from within yourself.

Such is the voice of compassion, which doesn’t just speak to our minds, but speaks to our hearts. It builds an invisible chain of strength and courage, connecting us through our struggles and uniting us through each other’s strength.

Go on, join the chain of compassion. Be a source of strength in others, for you never know how hard they may be struggling to find it within themselves.

Lend someone your strength, so that they can use it to build their own.

On apologies…

Sorry.jpgConveying an apology is no easy matter. One could dub it an art, if you will, because it requires so many intricacies that make it far more complicated than what one would conventionally consider to be a mere utterance of “I’m sorry.”

Children are naive in a way, because they learn that saying “I’m sorry” is a quick fix, reversing all the damage caused by one’s unkindness. When you do something wrong, ‘just apologize, and it’s as if it never happened.’ Growing up with a misguided understanding of the art of apologies only further desensitizes us to the severity of our misconduct.

Because life’s far more difficult. Psychological pain hits people like a bullet. Words pierce the heart. Insults hurt the soul. Healing such wounds is not so simple. You don’t just patch them, especially the subtle ones. There is no magic medicine when it comes to apologies.

After all, “I’m sorry” only admits that you hurt someone. It doesn’t change the fact that you did. 

To truly make mends, a lot of careful consideration is necessary. The pain one has dealt ought to be pondered long and hard, and the apology one wishes to convey ought to be sent straight from the heart. You don’t just say “I’m sorry.” You gotta show the person you’ve acknowledged the damage you’ve dealt, and moreover, that you care infinitely for their healing and hold deep regret for all that you’ve done wrong.

In embodying such strong humility and going forth with such a relentless push toward mitigating another’s pain, you show the recipient of your apology just how much you care. You are not putting yourself at their mercy. You are putting yourself by their side, to comfort them and let them know that you are there. With full attention, devotion, and acknowledgement.

An apology is not meant to be tacit. No, it is to be embodied, wholeheartedly: in your thoughts, your words, and your actions, too.

“I’m sorry” is the seed you plant to initiate an apology. What you do after it is the water that brings that seed to life.