How Much of Yourself Can You Recognize In Others?

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I learned a lovely word today: karuna. It comes from an Indian language (Pali), and is used to describe the Buddhist view of compassion. Translated literally, karuna means “a quivering of the heart in response to a being’s pain.”

That is so beautiful to me that I’ve been sitting in my writing chair, holding my Blue Heeler like a baby, letting gentle, bittersweet tears come down my cheeks for a solid minute. This was exactly the word & idea I needed in my life.

I needed that reminder of how I used to feel, and feel at my core, towards people. I get separated from it by all the ugliness and hatefulness that seem to so-prevalently circulate lately.

I’ve been scared and sad and lonely in this world lately, feeling more disconnected from others than ever before. Is that what getting older feels like? Is this what a Trump America feels like?its been a creeping feeling, ever since I “came out,” that I’m not someone who others fight for, consider one of theirs, or even consider worth consideration at all.

I’ve had people say I’m being dramatic or that I’m not seeing things as they are, but all I can tell you honestly is how I feel. And I’m always open to being persuaded otherwise, so if you’re one of those people who tried to invalidate my feelings, I say this: Prove me wrong.

The most crushing thing about it is the disparity between ehat I’ve been willing to give, how big my Love always felt, and how little I’ve felt in return. Maybe that’s selfish, but it’s enough to make me scared, and therefore hardened, even a bit withdrawn.

I can imagine that’s how plenty of Black Americans have felt in their lives. Growing up, as I was told, “white-washed” didn’t afford me that understanding.

But, as I’ve grown and come more into contact with and aware of my Otherness, that feeling has become more prevalent.

Muslims, women, any under-represented or historically-subjugated group… I can only imagine that pain.

That empathetic connection is a major facet of karuna, or the quivering of the heart in response to the recognition of suffering in others. From a Buddhist POV, it’s useful to view our personal breakdowns, pain, losses, and mistakes not as failures, but as powerful invitations to crack our hearts open. Under this philosophy, the ocean of suffering that IS life (on both personal and universal levels) is seen as a tremendous opportunity to awaken our compassionate spirits.

But, it’s easy to see how minority groups hurt. I also look to the notion of Karma when it comes to many of our social issues, namely that “like follows like.” It makes me wonder: Where does the pain and fear originate?

It’s easy to ignore how majority groups may feel, especially in a democracy where more numbers equates to winning & rightness. Really, majorities only wins elections. Then, laws are passed, many of which hurt or offend other people in society (especially now with politics and identity are so closely related).

I imagine that’s how many older, white Americans feel.

The Karma of Politics – they’ll getcha…
I imagine that’s what Christians felt when public school children weren’t forced to pray: the fear and uncertainty created by the perceived stripping away of their deeply-held beliefs, the things that drive their entire existence. It was part of routine. Then, it was gone. Growing up in an incredibly fear-driven church, I get it. That must be a terrifying thing, to feel unsupported or that everyone will suffer from the removal of God from public life.

Feeling forgotten or ostracized is probably what drove gaggles of khaki’ed guys to take up tiki torches and march while yelling, “WE WILL NOT BE REPLACED!”

I was blind to the notion that people felt like they didn’t have a place in this world, because my Pollyanna-sunshine’ing behind always felt like there was room for everyone. And was willing to make room for everyone, or fight for them to have a place. My heart quivers for these people for the pain and sadness and disenfranchisement they must feel to act out in the negative ways they have, even if my mind dismisses them for the negative impact they’ve actively sought to impose on others. 

It makes me sad, in general, to know so many people hurt & yet so little is done to heal it.

First step would be admitting it. “I feel…” statements can do wonders, especially when followed by an explanation of the view from where one is.

Next up, being willing to listen to others to recognize the pain that they are feeling. Then, attempting to recognize that pain as one’s own. 

Because, after all that, we can start talking solutions. It reminds me of one of the principles of collective impact—agreeing on a core issue—that allows societal problems to be tackled.


It helps to start within, because responding to our own suffering with compassion not only eases our pain, but gives rise to compassion for others. As the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön said:

“Sorrow has the exact same taste for all of us.”