While perspective-taking is an important life skill, I observe repeatedly that many individuals have been taught to use it as a tool to minimize their own suffering and grief. Paradoxically, this simply creates another obstacle to integrating one’s authentic life experiences and the potential healing benefits for self and others. It also often creates another layer of suffering, as the comparative subtext is: Who am I to claim I’ve suffered?
In The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit, speaks to this with great clarity and eloquence:
Other’s woes can be used as reproaches and sometimes are: how dare you think about your own private suffering when wars are raging and children are being bombed? There is always someone whose suffering is greater than yours. The reproaches are often framed as though there is an economy of suffering, and of compassion, and you should measure yourself, price yourself, with the same sense of scarcity and finite resources that govern monetary economies, but there is no measure of either. In high does suffering is boundless and incomparable and overwhelming.
Furthermore, whenever we connect to our own authentic life experiences, it expands our capacities to relate to and care about the suffering we observe in ever-widening circles of relationships: family, friends, community, state, nation, and the world.
Today, through the Parliament of World Religions’ 2021 Conference online, I had the privilege of speaking with two bright, emotionally intelligent, compassionate individuals engaged in youth work in India. While we could all imagine the differences between our respective worlds and work, the connecting threads were that youth in India and the States (and everywhere) meeting the obstacles: of poverty, family distress/dissolution, educational access challenges, employment demands or access to employment, etc. need community support, mentorship, and compassionate, skillful programming to help them create a life beyond survival mode. We made space for the fullness across landscapes and time, and plan to connect again to explore more how therapeutic yoga and mindfulness practices can support resiliency and healing for youth and those who provide services to them.