It’s easy to get locked into negative loops of thinking when we are in emotional overdrive. Trying to deal with more input than we can possibly handle wreaks havoc with our well-being and health. As well, it greatly diminishes our ability to interact with others in positive and productive ways. We can oftentimes get so caught up in the challenges of our own lives that we fail to understand the simple fact that other people are also going through their own hardships.
When letting downward spiraling thoughts prevail, we greatly limit our ability to demonstrate genuine compassion for self and others which only magnifies the feeling that we are the only ones who may be struggling. As best-selling author, Oliver Burkeman states, "we cannot evade the terms and conditions of being human”. A simple, yet profound acknowledgement that we are all in this messy thing called life together.
The Dalai Lama once said, "we must always embrace the common humanity that lives at the heart of us all". His words are an important reminder that life is not only unpredictable, but also filled with a multitude of common experiences that define us. Our beauty, strengths, faults, fears, anxieties, ambitions, hopes and wants are all a deeply embedded part of what it means to be human.
James Baldwin, an American activist and writer, once told the story of having deep resentment for his father that was left unresolved at the time of his passing. While attending his father’s funeral, he was filled with anger and hurt, but the words of the preacher pierced through the hardness of these negative emotions. In that moment, he began to feel an overwhelming sense of compassion for everything his father had gone through in his life
The preacher’s words that made such a difference to Baldwin were, “Thou knowest this man’s faults, but thou knowest not his wrestling”. A similar message was also echoed more than 80 years later by famous American actor Robin Williams, “Everyone you meet in life is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind, always”.
It has also been said that ‘to be always fortunate and to pass through life with a soul that has never known worries is to be ignorant of one half of human nature.”
Smoothing out the sharp, jagged edges of self-judgment, anxiety, worry, frustration, doubt and other such emotions only becomes possible when we understand and accept that universal suffering is part of the human condition. Regardless of age, culture, religion or ethnicity, we all suffer.
In our times of struggle, a simple acknowledgement that we are not alone and that someplace else in this world other people are also struggling can help to take away a bit of the sting. It can become easier to depersonalize challenging emotions/experiences and respond to them proactively rather than reactively when we tap into this deeper sense of the human condition. The blog post is not meant to be a miracle cure for suffering but more so an important reminder that we are not alone with our struggles.
Wishing you all peace and happiness. Thanks for reading
KAUST Faculty, Pedagogical Coach. Presenter & Workshop Leader.IB Educator. #RunYourLife podcast host.