Choosing compassion requires the following 4 actions.
- Setting the intention to choose compassion
- Being empathetic
- Being self aware
- Consciously choosing compassion at critical moments
Choosing Compassion - how I failed
Faced with a situation in which choosing compassion was an option, I succeeded with 1 and 2, but failed at actions 3 and 4. Confrontation happened. A 6 hour cold war ensued.
Action 1: Some time ago I made a commitment to be more compassionate. To support that commitment, I’ve been practicing loving kindness/compassion meditations.
My evening flight from Boston to San Francisco was delayed by 3 hours. Instead of landing at 10:30 PM Pacific/1:30 AM Eastern, we’d be landing at 1:30 AM Pacific/4:30 AM Eastern. Not something any traveler looks forward to. I had a middle seat in a crowded row. A single passenger sat by the window in the row across the aisle. I had my eye on the aisle seat.
Action 2: I understood, by way of empathy, how hopeful she felt as each boarding passenger passed by her row. I empathized with how delighted she was when the doors shut and the seats in her row remained empty. I know the secret pleasure of stretching out for a nice sleep while flying. The flight delay would definitely increase the pleasure factor. I also sensed how disappointed she would feel when I plunked my body into that luscious aisle seat.
As I took the seat, we made eye contact and I announced, with a smile, “I’m moving into the neighborhood.” I wasn’t prepared for her response. “You can’t sit there.” I explained that I had a middle seat in a full row. Upon speaking with the flight attendant she suggested I move to the seat my not so happy neighbor was defending. She glanced around and said, “I don’t see that you came from a middle seat. Besides, I plan on stretching out and sleeping during the flight, so you can’t sit there.”
My fight neurons lit up and my reaction ripped forward. “Did you pay for these two seats?”
“Well then, you don’t own them.”
End of conversation and beginning of a 6 hour cold war. No eye contact. No conversation.
Failure at Actions 3 & 4
Greater self-awareness when my fight response was triggered, would have been a signal to pause and take a breath. Taking a breath, might have allowed me to remember my intention to be compassionate, regardless of what the other person does or doesn’t do. Having failed at step 3, you might think failing step 4 was inevitable. But that was not the case.
During the cold war that ensued, I considered turning to my neighbor and saying, “I understand how disappointing it is to think you have the whole aisle to stretch out and sleep during a late night flight. I also hope you might understand the discomfort of an aisle seat during a long overnight flight. Hopefully we can both get some sleep.”
But I didn’t. Having committed to confrontation over compassion, it was difficult to get those words from my mind to my mouth.
I do, however, commit to begin again and choose compassion the next time. I’m grateful for a next time and the chance to begin again.You too have the chance to begin again. When confronted with a difficult situation, do you intend to choose compassion, confrontation, something else?