womankind’s Compassion Challenge

Day one: Over lunch I found myself in the company of a young woman heading back to the US for Christmas. “I’m insisting to my family that we go somewhere cold,” she told me, “because a sunny Christmas is just wrong.” She said this with the usual gravitas that northern hemisphere residents use. I always read into these statements some kind of expectation that I will apologise for Australia’s sunny Decembers - which I refuse to. Instead of getting on my high horse, I decided to think about how much this North American must be missing home, and how great it will be for her to be with her family again, by the fire.

Day two: On the phone, I recounted an incident when I ran into a man I knew, along with his partner. His partner appeared very suspicious of me. I said that I must give off a bad vibe to people. My best friend, who was on the other end of the phone, suggested I interpret the incident in a more generous light. As opposed to thinking I elicit undue suspicion in other people, I might consider their situation. The experience of encountering someone new can be quite unsettling. It goes without saying that this more compassionate approach is far more sensible. But I think it does bear mentioning that at first, compassion seems far less interesting than rash conclusions about ourselves and other people. The latter is a bad habit, a sort of internal gossiping.

Day three: I did not do very well at ‘compassionate thinking’ today. The closest I came was giving some ‘compassionate thinking’ advice to a friend as we debriefed over tea. We were talking about an event my friend had hosted, which he didn’t feel was that successful. My consolation to him was third-hand. In writing my final university thesis, I battled continually against perfectionism. I wondered if the whole thing was a hopeless venture. My father gave me G. K. Chesterton’s wisdom: “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” It proved immensely freeing. I came to terms with the idea of writing a bad thesis, and in the end got a thesis which I thought was OK - which I was even a bit proud of. I told this advice to my friend. He said it was a great thing to reflect on, that he was actually proud to have done something, rather than nothing.

Day four: A friend and I were talking for so long on her couch that we entirely forgot about a house inspection we were meant to go to. I tried very earnestly to reduce the importance of the inspection in my mind; even if it was terribly important, there was nothing we could really do about it. I tried to contemplate things to the effect of: Ah, the beauty of conversation! The diversion of friendship! But in reality, we would have had more time to spend talking on couches if we had a house to live in.

In the morning I was up early to see a friend for breakfast. I was recovering from my work Christmas party. The day was already humid by morning - not really compassionate weather. Later on in the evening, I was introduced to a friend of a friend who could barely utter a greeting in my direction. It was difficult not to take it personally. Compassionate thinking led me to consider: everyone is tired on a Sunday evening. Or maybe he’s just bad at meeting people. It turns out that compassionate thinking can only get

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