Let me tell you a story.
There once was a young girl in North India named Gotamī, called Kisā Gotamī by her family, because she was so lean and thin. Her family was very poor, and fortune favored her with a wealthy husband. After many years of ridicule at her inability to bear a child, she brought to term a beautiful baby boy. When he was only three, the boy fell ill and died in the night. Kisā Gotamī was inconsolable, so much so that she would not let them take his body from her for last rites. She insisted physicians and healers be brought to her to bring her son back, but none were able to do so. Finally, someone suggested she go and see the Buddha at the monastery who was a great healer as well as a great teacher.
She took her son’s body and laid it at the feet of the Buddha, pleading with him to give her back her precious son. The Buddha told her he would be happy to do so if she would only bring him a pinch of mustard seeds from the house of a family who has known no loss. The woman left her son in the Buddha’s gentle care and went door to door, asking each family if they have experienced loss. Each family shared their own story with her, because every family had a tale of woe to tell. By the time she reached the end of the village, though she had not found a single family who was spared the pain of loss, Kisā Gotamī found within herself the ability to begin accepting the death of her son and take the first steps on the path to healing.
I share this tale with you as an example of the importance of dialogue, of sharing stories, and most importantly, of listening to others. Creating safe space for people to share, even and especially when their emotions rise up during the retelling, is an important part of building the relationships we need to change our culture. Active listening leads to greater understanding. It adds to perspective and improves our ability to feel empathy with those around us. From the vantage point of true connection, we can readily feel compassion as their stories flood our own senses, reminding us of our own losses. We may not be able to understand exactly what someone is going through, but we can relate to the need to find healing in the face of traumatic and heart-wrenching events in our lives.
Moving through the world with compassion is a simple. Compassion derives from the Latin, com, together, and pati, to suffer, meaning “to suffer together.” When we give our undivided attention to those around us and learn to suffer with them, putting aside our desire to problem-solve as well as any judgments that arise, we connect with them on a heart-level that serves to help us all to heal together.