Do we cry for ourselves?
Added: Tuesday, 9 December 2008

watch original V-Blog in Persian

watch original V-Blog in German

I walk home from the grocery store and find an ATM slip that someone has dropped. The balance is 4 Rand (USD 0.4).

I'm driving on the highway and pass a dog that has probably been abandoned and paces back and forth as he ponders how to cross the terrifying lanes ahead of him.

I turn on the news and see the face of a child that has been locked into a basement and hasn't seen the light of day for the last three years.

I watch a loved one struggling to get through the next day of chemo while juggling life's daunting responsibilities.

No matter what's happening to whom a part of me always stays behind on the street, on the highway, on the other side of the TV screen or telephone and absorbs the pain of the other. Some call it compassion or empathy, but there are times when I wonder if I'm not actually a little crazy for hurting so much?

So I listened intently when, the other day, a TV psychologist was analysing a similar trait in a fellow human being. The lady on the phone was crying and explaining how the smallest things make her cry and how she can't turn off what she feels is extreme compassion for other people and their suffering. I was dying to hear the response. I was hoping he would say we could take a pill.

He said people who focus so intently on the suffering of others are actually scared that those things could happen to them. That they themselves could end up bankrupt, lost, abused or sick. His underlying philosophy was that anything we do, see, dream or think comes back down to us and ourselves – our own fear of being abandoned, rejected or whatever else.

Sounded very psychologisty and plausible. But the more I thought about it, the more I began to doubt if that is necessarily true, because deep down when I feel compassion, a part of me wishes that I could take that pain away from the other person. A part of me mentally barters with God – asking him to burden me rather than the other person.

And even if that were an illusion, even if were fooling myself and just imagining that my feelings are selfless, then what about, say, mothers? Don't mothers sincerely put their children first? When their kids don't come home from school and their heart almost stops because they can't find the little hand they were holding at the mall, when they run through the streets searching for their loved one – are they doing it for selfish reasons? Because deep down they're scared that they themselves might be lost? Naw!

So then human beings are not essentially and necessarily selfish and egotistical. Not everything comes back down to them and their fears and their needs and their wants. The fact that you can put yourself in the other person's shoes and actually feel a part of their potential pain doesn't necessarily mean that you're scared it might happen to you, does it?

Now I don't really think that my personal feelings are healthy or productive. But whatever the case, I do believe that human beings have the ability to think and act selflessly and that we need to, in fact, refine those abilities in order to create more balance in the world. The key might be, of course, the extent to which we can translate our feelings into actions. Perhaps my pain comes from all the times I haven't done anything or haven't been able to do something about the stranger's bank account, or the dog on the highway or the child in the basement or the tumor in my friend's head.

But one thing is for sure. Our aim should be to refine our awareness for others and maybe, just maybe, some of us who feel sick with compassion are actually the sane ones. And those who can sleep at night while their neighbor is sighing, are actually the crazy ones.

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29 August 2008

Story of a Sign

With a stroke of the pen, a stranger transforms the afternoon for another man in this emotionally stirring film by Alonso Alvarez Barreda. The winner of the short film online competition at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, Story of a Sign has since become a regular feature of Mexico's national television programming.

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