As much as we see war, violence, and hate all around us, we are a compassionate society. I am so often moved by acts of compassion during natural disasters, human rights issues, and everyday unsung actions that I sometimes forget all the negativity in the world. In truth I believe that can be a very good thing, as focusing on the good helps to recognize small acts of kindness, and can re-energize one to be more empathetic and kind themselves. With all that, it’s hard to throw darts at those that mean well with their sentiments and sympathy during hard times, but it some cases, their intent doesn’t match the results. How truly can feeling sympathy be wrong on any level?
Sympathy has a few definitions, but all seem to be based in a union of ideas and feelings with another person. One of the definitions says, to feel sorrow or PITY for someone’s misfortune. I of course capitalized pity because that is the real issue when it comes to sympathy. In many situations, the person going through a hard time has enough sorrow and pity from themselves that any additional emotions in that direction could send them over the edge. Pity in general isn’t an emotion anyone wants, with sorrow being understandable initially. However, with sorrow, no one wants to stay in that house for any long period of time, and when someone is hurting, sorrow is an emotion they want gone as soon as possible.
I recently shared some health information that was new to some of my family and friends. Most took it well, accepting what I had to say in regards to my current health and the future of my life, while others stayed in the house of sorrow and fear. I understand. In the beginning I had to get to a place where the shame and fear weren’t in control anymore. It wasn’t overnight so it would be foolish and insensitive for me to expect or require that from another person. But, when I see their pain having it’s base in fear and misinformation, I tend to want to distance myself from that. I’m a man of logic and reason. I am emotional, but when I see my emotions taking over, I look to my mind to make sence of why and see if my emotions need to be adjusted or validated. Fear itself tends to have little basis in fact, thus for me I can’t live in fear or join anyone else on that journey.
The main thing I have realized is when someone, like myself is going through a tough situation, they tend to just want support. Support comes in all kinds of forms, but the basis of this support is compassion and love. Sympathy and compassion are different, a fact most don’t really see. With compassion, while there is sorrow and maybe some sympathy there, the main actions of a compassionate soul is to alleviate that suffering. A compassionate soul looks at positive ways to handle the other persons misfortune, taking cues from the one in need, and taking care not to transfer their emotions on to the other person. For me, that is what is needed, and for many I know that have had difficulties in their lives, they too just want that support that looks warm and hopeful, rather than sad and in pain.
It has been a struggle to balance what I feel I need with those that feel they are now in the boat with me. It is true when someone is going through a life change, it does affect those closest to them. With me, it’s living with HIV, and while my daily routine is pretty much unchanged, it doesn’t seem like anyone is going through it with me. If I hadn’t shared the news with anyone, they would just see me and treat me as they always had. That is what I want, with many doing just that, but some unable to move past the news. When I ask them what is wrong, they only can share with me fear of the conclusion that comes from being HIV-positive, but in my mind that is so far away, I don’t want to sit with them and their fears. As much as I made attempts to educate them on medical advancements, and the real fact that HIV is a chronic disease like diabetes, the facts of the past seem to hold more weight than the reality of the now.
I was recently turned on to a new reality show (don’t judge me) called Blood, Sweat, and Heels. One of the ladies on the show is battling cancer, and giving me so much strength as she journeys forward. I recall her saying how she didn’t enjoy telling new people, as she had to comfort them while in reality she was the one that needed comfort and support. She had been battling this disease in silence to avoid people treating her differently, along with wanting to avoid the tears from others. This is a real situation with anyone having difficulties in life. We just want love, friendships, hope, and optimism. It’s not that we truly want to escape and deny the situation (sometimes that is the case but that’s another story all together), but we want to be able to continue on, face the emotions that will naturally come when they arise, and power through faithfully and diligently. As cold as it might seem, when your tears start, we tend to want to walk away.
This a difficult situation. I’m always about validating everyone emotions because they come from someplace real in that person’s spirit. The overcoming of negative emotions brings such strength, I wouldn’t want to deny that to anyone. But, I see the needs of that person directly dealing with whatever situation as being paramount. I feel it’s important to truly ask what that person needs, and respect their wishes to the best of one’s abilities. If they truly can’t, they should be honest and then accept if that person will walk with them in their pain or needs to separate temporarily to maintain their own spirit and health.
If the goal in general is love and warmth, is to show kindness and compassion, then the one in situation more fully must call the shots. I don’t have the answers for everyone else, but for me, show me love, show me you see me unchanged and still dynamic. Show me compassion not sympathy.