Compassion isn’t easy

For the first thirteen or so years of my life, I grew up in a small town in the middle of Maine. The total population was ~ 800 people. It’s a poor town — per capita income is about $13k/year. Families up the road would live in two trailers nailed together by plywood, and they’d punch out walls to create a makeshift double-wide.

Downtown Lagrange — aka a gas station.

I grew up feeling fortunate (although I definitely didn’t realize it as much as I should have). My dad had a good job, and although we weren’t living large (I was one of four children in a single-income family), we certainly weren’t the norm in LaGrange, Maine.

Role Models

My parents did an extraordinary job helping neighbors who were less fortunate. Kids from up the street would come to our house and my dad would fix their bike, four-wheeler, or whatever form of transportation was preferred at the time. Periodically the kids’ parents would stop by — sometimes they’d ask for $20 so they could pay a bill.

I learned a lot about compassion. This was not a result of some natural inclination, but because I was fortunate to have parents who understood that it’s not about how clean your jeans are when you come home from work, what you do for a career, your level of education, or how much money you make. My dad grew up as one of those kids up the street.

The intentional actions of my parents bridged these imaginary, yet very real systems at play.

Things change.

Now I live in a more affluent part of the state. The people I hang out with come from a different world. I work in tech and can count on one hand the number of people who came from a similar situation as I did.

I’m sure others could say the same thing about me too. I was born in an amazing country, with great parents who cared about my well-being. I didn’t have to escape a war-torn country, learn a new language, or struggle to learn a subject in a dysfunctional school system.

You’re part of a system.

Everyone is part of numerous systems. Oftentimes these systems compete with each other. A journalist might live in a system where influence is measured by the number of eyeballs you can capture or how many Twitter followers you have. Someone in LaGrange, Maine lives in a system where success is defined by how nice your truck or snowmobile is.

These systems oftentimes manifest themselves into obvious forms — like your Facebook newsfeed. I see friends from one side posting about one side, and then with more scrolling can see the exact opposite sentiment. I’m certainly not immune to this either.

The election

One major byproduct of the recent election is that it’s forced people who live in one system to realize that there are major systems that are not aligned with their worldview. This typically is expressed as “I don’t understand what’s going on.”

For the opposite system, the feeling of a “win” will blind them to digging into opposing viewpoints. Rinse and repeat.

What’s my point?

It’s easy to get systems-vision — the world works according to the systems you’ve immersed yourself in. It’s easy to live in Silicon Valley and talk about how you’d like to understand what happened in the election, but it’s much tougher to actually put in the work to understand.

It’s awkward and strange to go hang out with people who aren’t like you and don’t share your world-views. The same applies for them. It’s tough to be compassionate, especially for people you disagree with.

A overly simple way expression of how to break out of systems-vision.

Long story short — recognize when you’re part of a system, put in the work to understand conflicting systems, or else you’ll face the same outcome that we saw so vividly on Nov 8th.