Dr. Anna Charbonneau

Therapy for people living with stress, depression, and medical conditions

How to Heal in a World Filled with Suffering

by Dr. Anna Charbonneau | Tags: emotion coping, stress

I am taking a break from my usual style today and writing completely off the cuff. The past few days have been difficult. The recent shootings of citizens by police, by the very people who should be protecting us. This StoryCorps video about what it is like to be the victim of a horrible abuse of power. And this morning, I woke up to news that snipers shot and killed police officers protecting a protest. As I write this, I feel a crushing weight and a nearly unbearable feeling of heaviness in my heart.

I have been struggling with what to say; how to even begin to respond to this. I write about healing, about joy, about hope. And yet in this world there is such deep grief and suffering. I have been feeling strangled and trapped by it. I have felt so deeply powerless and in despair. I will admit, I feel afraid. From my perspective, hate and a deep wild fear seem to be running rampant in our public discourse and in our actions.

There seems to be an almost overpowering urge for some people to use any event to further their political view point. Each person, on each side, can use nearly any terrible event as "proof" of their rightness. As proof of the "other" as stupid, misinformed, and downright dangerous. I am tired of that.

When we look at this world and see nothing but hate and suffering and when we can do nothing but blame, we dig ourselves deeper. Pointing fingers, screaming loudly about how the other is wrong, creating literally insane false dichotomies–it just drives us further apart. Individually we are left with heart wrenching despair. As a culture, we become driven by fear.

I am against abuse of power. I am against hate. I am against violence. I know I can be for the Black Lives Matter movement and against abuse of power by police offers. I can be for supporting our troops and against war mongering. There is no us and them. There is only us. Many times in the past I've declined to say anything, because I've been afraid. I hate arguing. I have in the past declined to speak up and preferred to stay in my comfort zone. Today I am deciding to speak up.

I was thinking today about everyone (including myself) wringing their hands over the wrongs of others. And I was thinking about how we can ever stop this. And what came to mind is what part I might play in either suffering or healing. Have there been times when I've reacted angrily? When I've declined to offer solace to someone in need? Have I ever driven by a car stopped on the side of the road? Have I ever said mean things to someone? Made fun of someone? Failed to step in when I saw a wrong being committed? Have I been too busy, too afraid, to wrapped up in my own drama to stop and help someone? Have I ever failed to act with love and compassion? I know I have. I know it in my heart. And I am willing to bet you have too.

There is something we can do and that's what I want to write about today. Every day, there are small acts of compassion we can take to help build the world we want to live in. Together, we have the capacity to make this world better. There are no sides. There just aren't. There is one side: us. Together, we can find ourselves and each other again.

We are not powerless. In small ordinary acts of humanity and compassion, towards ourselves and others, we can find our sense of humanity. Might you be rejected? Of course. That is besides the point. What you can do is stop adding to hate and anger and fear. Stop. Enough with blaming, rejecting, demeaning. Stop, please, please, stop and think before you jump on a bandwagon and ride away into a sunset of vitriolic rhetoric about this or that political view, about how we need more of this or less of that.

We can stop blaming and start helping. We can stop lamenting the state of humanity and start engaging in our values. Do you value love? Do you value freedom? Do you value life? Do you value connection? Do you value joy? Do you want to live in a better world? Then start to act on it.

You don't need to be a hero. The very idea of a hero can act as a barrier. You might say, well, I certainly can't jump into a burning building to save someone. Or, I can't solve world hunger. The real truth is that you don't need to. You just need to make small acts on a daily basis.

Start with love and compassion, towards both yourself and others. To start, you must be willing to acknowledge your own failings. Acknowledge and then move to forgive yourself for the times you've been angry or reacted in a way that added to suffering. Forgive the times you've failed to stand up for what you believe in. Let go of guilt and shame for the past. Start acting compassionately towards yourself and others. Start by simply being with yourself and others without judging. Soften up.

Engage in small acts of courage. Pay attention to your environment. You can't solve violence in a war refugee camp 3,000 miles away from you. But you can pay attention to the people around you. Is there someone who is lonely? Who is struggling? Who is suffering in some way? Be brave. Step out. Engage with them gently.

In her book, Daring Greatly, Brene Brown talks about the importance of allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Allowing yourself to take the risk of connecting in a real way with another person. It's in allowing ourselves to be vulnerable that we find our real strength. It takes courage to set aside your internal dramas, your sense of rightness, your judgements. It takes courage to choose curiosity and openness; to set aside judgements and expectations and simply allow yourself and others to be in the moment.

Start small. Make a real connection with another human being in this world. Start with a simple, "Hi." A simple greeting to send a simple message: I see you, without judgement or expectation. I see that you, like me, are suffering in some way. A simple, humble acknowledgement. I am also human. I know what it is like to suffer too. Reflect back to them what you see, "It seems like you're angry." Go gently with them and listen. Ask. Simple questions: "Is there something I can do to help you? What is it that you need? What would make you feel better?" Allow yourself to engage in a real way with the people around you.

In short: Stop judging. Start listening. Talk to each other and, more importantly, listen. When we hear someone on the other "side" of the political divide shouting. We can listen for what's underneath. Is it fear? Is it suffering? What is it? We can seek to listen and we can seek to engage in that hidden message, to meet them on level ground: two humans coming together and saying no to fear, anger, blame, resentment.

Be brave in small ways. Do your best to bring healing to a broken world. Stand up. Speak up. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Fill this world with small acts that defy apathy and defy acceptance of hatred as a norm.