Waking up to compassion

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I woke up today with compassion on my mind. I often do. The last few days felt weird and heavy. Anytime there is a mass shooting, or the police kill another Black person who was just going about his or her normal life, or some (un)expected public violence occurs, every cell in my body shuts down. I am not a violent person and living in the onslaught of news of violence daily is traumatizing to my body. One day, I took two naps and was in bed by 7 p.m. Me? Really? I rarely nap. Sigh.

I wake up with compassion on my mind because I wrestle every day with how we all can use this powerful force to change what ails us as a society. Sometimes, that compassion inquiry turns personal, and I direct it to myself and a nap becomes an act of self-compassion. I cannot think clearly when I am flooded with images of 20-year-old Daunte Wright and think about the last moments of his life when a deadly gun was mistaken for a taser by a police officer. I cannot strategize on how to effectively teach another anti-racism class when I watch a video of two police officers pulling guns on U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario in uniform for not having a rear license plate.

What I do know is that we cannot stop this violence against Black bodies without compassion. Compassion will help us correct our history. It will give us wisdom for the present and it will help us heal what the detrimental injustices have done to marginalized people. And we also need self-compassion to help us process so we create strategies that are restorative and rebuilds our communities so everyone experiences inclusivity and belonging.

What is compassion again, and how can it do all that, you say? Different people define it different ways.

Author Frederick Buechner describes what it means to have compassion in this way: “Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.” And we at Compassionate Atlanta believe that you also must take compassionate action in alignment with what you are experiencing compassion about.

How do you define compassion and where does action come in for you?

This week, I invite you take a minute to think about your joy, and your peace and really examine who does not share in that same joy and peace. And can you then try and live inside Daunte’s 20-year-old body? Do you see the air freshener in his car? Do you see his son in his arms? Do you see his girlfriend? Do you see the hopes for his life and the shattered dreams of young Black men who identify with him? Do you feel the fear of Black moms that have sons as young Black men?

And can you hold compassion for yourself as well in this moment of experiencing someone else’s suffering?

In pursing our peace and joy, so others can have their peace and joy, we must, we must, we must take action and hold those responsible accountable. Our actions count. Who are you going to talk to about this today? Or tomorrow? Let us not sweep our compassion under the rug until the next young marginalized person is killed. Let us speak to our loved ones and our neighbors about this and begin to brainstorm how compassion can heal us all. Together. We NEED compassion. I know I do. And do take care of yourself and be well. That is the self-compassion part.

Iyabo Onipede
Co-Director
Compassionate Atlanta

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