Croskey’s Corner: Compassion
As I write this, Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You is wafting through the house. Great song. Powerful voice. It reminded me of other great songs and their interpreters. Have you ever seen the movie Funny Girl? It is the biographical story of Fanny Brice, a vaudeville, Broadway, and radio star of the early to middle years of the Twentieth Century. The Fanny Brice story, in turn, made Barbra Streisand a Broadway, television, and movie star. Surely the song that epitomizes the show, Streisand’s signature number, is “People.” Her phrasing…the lyrical nuances she creates as she renders each note…I cannot imagine a better singer to perform it! (I know…I am talking about a has-been to some of you. She’s Josh Brolin’s stepmother, OK?!!) My favorite lyric from “People” is “A feeling deep in your soul/ Says you were half – now you’re whole.”
Wow! That’s lucky! It is a feeling of completion – and completeness. Being made whole! That is what healing is all about. Maybe falling in love is not YOUR idea of healing, but love could heal a wounded heart, couldn’t it? That brings us to Compassion, the Character Quality of the Month. Its definition, “Helping those who are hurting,” has the central notion of helping someone become whole.
I used to give students individual tests. One test asked students to define “compassion.” If the student gave an answer which mentioned a feeling of caring for someone, that answer resulted in a score of “1.” But if the student also described some action taken to make another person feel better, the score improved to “2.” That test item reinforced to me that Compassionate healing involved more than caring; it also necessitated putting that caring feeling into action. So, if I want to act Compassionately, I am going to have to get off my…couch… and DO something!
Yet there is a cost to these feelings and actions. Here is an illustration. Maybe you have heard, as I have, an acquaintance say, “I could never be a social worker/therapist/nurse/teacher. I would be sure to bring my worries home with me. You’d have to be able to separate your personal and professional lives.” When I would hear those words, I would bite my tongue.
You who are professional educators know that you aren’t a unique species of human that can turn his or her emotions off and on at the beginning and end of the day. You care about your students all the time. Even if you can compartmentalize differing parts of your life, you can’t really stop caring during your off-hours. Perhaps you are able to sustain such an effort because you have discovered the concept of The Wounded Healer. Many years ago, a wise friend answered my worried question of how to stop caring at 5:00 PM with a book suggestion: The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen. This book proposes that in order to be an effective healer of emotional wounds, one must draw upon empathy. This happens when the healer reflects upon her previous wounds and what process she went through to heal them. Early on in your career, you learned that pity for those who need your help was NOT healing, and did not help much, either. Instead, you realized that you needed a relationship which offered a more equal standing between you and those you helped. Maybe Compassion originates in the empathy you feel because you know what it is like to be wounded; but Compassion’s power comes, not from that hurt, but from knowing what it feels like to HEAL!
Educators get hurt, just like “regular” people. Our pain has been, at times, physical, and at other times, psychological. Few of us like feeling such pain. But my understanding of Compassion suggests that, in being wounded, we grow. Our visible scars may mar our appearance. But healed scars also make us more loveable because they detail our lives, and they are battle-tested experiences which can connect us with others. We use what we have learned, as we pieced ourselves back together, to ACT to help others heal, too. Half now? No, Whole!