Finding Compassion in a Time of Narcissism

Every year, I have the same New Year’s resolution: Be present.

I often struggle to enjoy the moment. To stop making mental lists. To fight the urge to check my phone. To pay attention to someone who is explaining something I already understand. I spend far too much time in my head, contemplating my next move instead of focusing on the current one.

But this year, in the age of Trump and weekly outrage, a new obstacle emerged. I found myself loathe to simply listen, to pay attention, to hear. I was no longer just fighting distraction, I was fighting something far more insidious: a lack of compassion. I stopped reading when I disagreed. I stopped engaging in discussions that had the potential for me to discover that a close friend voted for the other side. I avoided talk of politics. I shied away from certain discussions for fear that I might dislike you when we were done.

I found myself jumping to conclusions before the other side had a chance to explain. But I need you to explain. And I need to listen. I need to pay attention, and avoid the urge to descend into outrage.

Earlier this year, I was talking with a like-minded friend about her in-laws. She was outraged that they had taken up the cause to protect confederate statues. “Really?” she said. “Suddenly they care about protecting confederate statues?” And I said, “suddenly you care about taking them down?” When did I start caring so much about confederate statues, transgenders in the military, and DACA? Not that I don’t care about these issues, I care deeply. But when did I become so outraged over things that took up zero brain-space less than a year ago?

Is it me or are these new distractions by design? The so-called fake news, and maybe the real news as well, seem to be fueling my outrage about provocative issues that seem blatantly intended to rile up the left. And I take the bait. Every time. And my emotional response exaggerates the left-leaning nature of my belief-system, making the other side perceive me as ridiculous, when we are likely far more similar than we are different.

Seven years ago, my sister and I stopped speaking to one another. More accurately, I stopped speaking to her. We had arrived at an impasse over a painful family issue, and I was unable to speak with her without feeling severe anxiety. So, I took a break. A five-year break. Mind you, my sister and I were as close as two sisters can be. Best friends. Confidants. Jarringly similar. So much so, that when we started talking again, we discovered that in the years that we were apart, we had read the same books, bought similar clothes and the identical handbag.

Around Christmas time, two years ago, we found our way back to each other. I have my children to thank. At age 9 and 11, they insisted on sending her a holiday card. And then we started talking. More importantly, we found a way to listen and we were finally able to put ourselves in our sister’s shoes. We set a few boundaries around topics that were difficult. We created a safe space to be ourselves and enjoy each other. A month later, our mother was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, and whatever issues we had with one another completely evaporated. The two of us, best friends once again, took up the cause and raised over $60,000 for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. And we gave our mother the gift of her children together, listening, supporting her and each other.

I share this story because family members are cutting themselves off from each other over confederate statues and transgender rights. I share this story because it is time we stop taking the bait. I’m not suggesting that we should stop being passionate about issues that matter. Rather, I am hoping that we can remain passionate, while also being compassionate. While we may not agree on tax law or healthcare, I’m guessing we spent the year reading the same books and buying the identical handbag (figuratively, of course).

As we head into 2018, I am reinvigorating my annual resolution: Be Present. Find compassion. Listen. Hear. And stop taking the bait.