My sister recently shared with me a list of concerns and challenges going on in her life. I am not proud of this, but I responded by saying ‘stop complaining and think of what it’s like to be a Syrian refugee!’
I wondered afterward how I could have responded differently. Why do we offer platitudes of ‘someone’s got it worse so chin up, ’ which essentially denies or minimizes other’s experiences? I was not trying to minimize my sister’s experience, I was rather trying to broaden the perspective. I was trying to point to other human experiences of suffering as a way to say that we are all in this mess called life together. But I ended up being a mean, failed Buddhist. Complaining about or focusing on only one's own issue: My pain, My fear, My worry, My anxiety, separates us from the flow of the human condition. Separating out our individual problems and pain as the only thing to focus on furthers the divide between me and us.
So how can we be nicer Buddhists and offer perspective without rejecting or denying what others are going through? How about simply reminding others, and ourselves, that we are all flawed, lost, and suffering in our own way.
A friend gave a nice example of how to do this. She was beating herself up for having had an affair, which was devastating to her. She shared her feelings of shame with a family member, who kindly reminded her that millions of us throughout history have had affairs. My friend, although still chastising herself for choices that she made, was relieved by being reminded that she is not separate from the rest of humanity.
We all do hurtful and destructive acts at times, and feel all kinds of emotions, and think all kinds of thoughts. It’s all a part of this messy journey called life. Now that’s perspective.