Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.

28Feb/092

Sympathy Deficit Disorder

I admit, I'm just trying to be clever with the title. Well, mostly.

Amidst all the "usual" emails in my inbox at work Thursday morning was news that a co-worker, had lost her dog. I happen to know that R, the director of one of my client teams, absolutely adored her dog. He was really her little furry "kid" and he meant the world to her. R even gave people pictures of Spike!

As a person with little furry "kids" in my life I really felt a lot of sympathy for R. I've had to make the decision to be a part of ending a pet's life due to the suffering that comes of extreme illness or old age. It is the hardest part of the joy of pet companionship. My heart went out to her when I read the news.

During a break between meetings I made a point to pick out a sympathy card to send to R while picking up some lunch. I sent a message out to my team that I had a card at my desk her, letting people know they could sign it before I mailed it off. Everyone in the office on Thursday signed the card and we talked about our own pets.

Except one person. K told me, with great discomfort and awkwardness, how she really didn't know about Spike at all. Then K went on to say how R had been a major part of a decision to downsize a team in Portland several years ago. K had been part of that team. Many of her team mates at the time had lost their jobs and K ended up transferring onto the team we are both now a part of. K said she's never been able to let go of those hard feelings and didn't feel right signing a sympathy card. I responded that it was quite alright, that K need not feel pressured to sign the card.

Really I felt funny about it myself. Inside I was surprised that someone would withhold sympathy from another suffering being. I appreciate how deeply the wounds are when a company eliminates a team, the last job I had ended when the parent company closed the Oregon office. Despite understanding that on a very personal level it feels so obvious to me that we should respond compassionately to the suffering of others.

In some ways I was reminded of my Mom and the way she holds grudges, holding onto her anger even after a person has died. I believe there are people my Mom would withhold her compassion and sympathy. My whole family could be begrudging emotionally and materially.

It was after this brief, terribly awkward interaction with a co-worker I normally find so compassionate and recalling the own miserliness of my own family I was reminded of the eighth precept, "Not to withhold spiritual or material aid, but to give it freely when needed."

I guess I see responding with sympathy and compassion, particularly towards someone grieving a loss, is a reflection of eighth precept. It is an area where all we have to do to give is to listen and acknowledge the suffering another person is experiencing. Nothing more is necessary than that, just the compassion of a sympathetic ear.

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  1. I don’t know much about any precepts but I do understand how you feel. compassion for others when they are suffering of have had a loss is a measure of us as humans. Loss of a special life in our lives cust across all barriers. We are not Left or right, Democrat or republican, Right or Wrong we are simply humans. Compassion is a great and honorable Virtue that is in diminishing supply. Thank you for your post to remind me.

  2. I have seen people who refuse to be compassionate in lesser circumstances find their hearts softening when they person of derision has a death or a severe illness they can relate to. Apparently this event wasn’t enough for this person to get there and she wasn’t able to truly see herself reflected in the other’s suffering.I suppose either way of her interpreting the event gives her options… and she chose to express herself authentically, and that is a value I recognize, even if I’d have made a different choice to recognize the suffering of the pet caregiver.


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