Tag Archives: common humanity

We are all the Same. We are all Human.

Recently I have thought a lot about our shared humanity. The fact that we are ALL equal humans.

One is not above the other.
We are all the same.

We all have strengths and weaknesses, we all have hurts and joys, we are all somewhat fragile – never fully knowing what our tomorrow will look like or what the years to come might bring.

We are all the same.
And yet we are all utterly unique.

There is only one of you and there is only one of me. And yet, however different we are, we also share so much that is similar. Wherever we go in the world – there are people who are similar to us. In that we share a common humanity.

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One of the great joys of my life is getting to know people from backgrounds and cultures that are very different from my own. I have had the wonderful opportunity to meet and become friends with such a wide and varied spectrum of people from all over the world. And ironically the more diverse the people I meet – the more I see the common threads of our humanity. I love to celebrate and learn from the differences. But most of all I love to see how much we are all the same underneath.

Over the past few years I have especially discovered how brokenness and weakness has the potential to help us to see our equal humanity. Experiencing more of our own human inadequacy can bring much more humility – which helps to crush any sense of superiority. Superiority and judgement are probably the biggest barriers to us connecting with others and embracing our shared humanity.

“Humility is about coming to grips with our humanity… Pride is a determination to be seen as bigger than we are. When we are humble, we are down to earth. No energy is wasted on pretension. A humble man can be taken at face value.” – Erwin McManus

However, it’s not just superiority that’s the problem – often both a sense of superiority AND inferiority can bring a feeling of ‘separateness’ and ‘individuality’. Both feeling above and beneath people separates us from others because both cause us to focus on ourselves more and how much better or worse we are than other people. Which can stop us truly SEEING others and can cause us to miss what is going on in their lives.

As I have so vividly learnt over recent years, it is often suffering that is the equaliser. In my own experience suffering tends to somewhat level the playing field. When we are hit – face on – with our human vulnerability and fragility we soon start to see how we and  humanity as a whole is prone to such brokenness. It doesn’t matter how well you are educated, how many letters you have after your name, what titles you have collected or how much money you have.

As humans we will all face times of suffering. And those seasons of suffering tend to remind us of who we are…

Fragile humans trying our best to live this life full of unknowns the best we can.

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“Suffering invites us to be radically human with one another, perhaps doing nothing more than reaching across the table, clasping hands, and weeping together. We are afforded the chance to create a safe place for someone else to mourn…”  – Jen Hatmaker

It is true, in my own life experience and observations, that it is often suffering that ‘invites us to be radically human with one another.’ It strips us of all our titles, labels and achievements and touches the heart. The rich get sick and die and the poor get sick and die. One might have the money to make that journey of suffering a bit less painful. But both the rich and poor still have to walk the painful journey that suffering brings.

It is thus, often through suffering, that we discover a potential for more authentic connection with others. Suffering can strip us of our ability to ‘hide’ from others. Especially when our suffering is obvious and effects our everyday life. Suffering can expose us – but if we can embrace the vulnerability that the exposure brings, then we have the potential to discover more human connection in that place.

IF we are willing to live in the discomfort of being more fully known.

“The strongest relationships are formed in heat of difficulty and the confession of weakness…. sometimes we feel like we have to present a perfect image to the world that everything is OK because we have faith. But in reality honesty breads more honesty… it’s about sharing our common humanity” – Patrick Regan

It is true that honesty breads more honesty. When I talk openly to others about my many physical and mental health battles over the past few years since falling off a ladder in 2015 and experiencing a long term debilitating spinal/ brain injury, I find that others are more willing to open up about their own physical and mental health battles. When you are honest about your own battles with anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts – others will often open up to you about their’s as well. Sometimes people who you never even knew struggled with such things, will reveal more of the dark depths of their own similar wrestling’s. Sometimes they have never really told anyone before. It brings more common understanding and empathy. And it is in that safe place of empathy that you discover more connection.

Human connection is most beautifully seen and experienced when we open up our lives and become increasingly REAL and honest with others. When we allow ourselves to be more fully known.

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So I would like to invite us all today to choose to be more ‘fully seen’ to remember that we are ‘all the same’. We are neither superior or inferior to others. Your background, titles, labels, achievements, failures or weaknesses do not make you any more or any less human than the next.

We are instead ALL simply the same underneath.

Beautiful yet broken, strong yet weak, secure yet insecure, lovable yet unlovable, achievers yet inadequate, unique yet ordinary…

Equal humans trying to find our way through our crazy lives. So as the saying goes…

‘Be kind. Because everyone you meet is fighting a battle that you know nothing about’.

Everyone experiences suffering – if it’s not you today – then it might be you tomorrow. So let’s embrace our common humanity. And we might just be able to help to make our broken world a better place for us all to live. Regardless of what comes our way.


The Bible*- 2 Corinthians ‭4:7‬a

Compassion Starts with Embracing our own Pain

“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.” – Henri Nouwen

The meaning of the word compassion is literally ‘co-suffering’ or ‘to suffer together’. Compassion is not simply a feeling that comes and then passes like sympathy or pity. Having compassion is being so deeply moved in your heart with the pain of another that you are compelled to act to somehow alleviate that suffering.

We are literally ‘joining together’ with the one suffering to help and support them.

It’s actually a deeply painful emotion. But the intense feeling is not focused on ourselves – it focuses on ‘the other’ who is suffering in some way. This means, although painful, it is a deeply beautiful and even freeing emotion. Because it takes the focus off our own challenges, trials and pain and focuses our attention on supporting and helping someone else.

However, the irony of compassion is that we only truly feel it, and are moved by it, once we have first embraced our own life struggles and pain. Until we recognise the pain that suffering brings to us, we cannot truly begin to understand the pain it brings to others.

This is why some of the most compassionate people you will come across are those who have felt a similar pain to yours. It may not have been exactly the same, but they at least experienced it enough to see it and feel it in you.

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Compassion is linked to empathy. Empathy enables us to understand and relate to what someone else is feeling. Compassion then takes empathy a step further, in that those empathetic feelings are intensified into a passion that leads to action. We are deeply moved to act! To do something to alleviate the person’s suffering. That act might be seemingly big or small, but it will be something that we actually do practically to help them. Motivated by the hope that it will help alleviate that persons suffering – even if only a little.

I really do love the quote at the top by Henri Nouwen. I believe the last sentence is particularly poignant:

“Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”

What does he mean by this, what is the ‘condition of being human’? 

To me one of the most striking characteristics of our humanity is our brokenness. It’s the fact that we are all born as vulnerable, weak and dependant babies. And we will also all die vulnerable and weak from sickness, an accident or old age. Our human body has a fragility and mortality about it which means that we are plagued by weakness in different ways. We have many vulnerabilities; physically, mentally and emotionally. We are all prone to seasons of suffering and struggle. We are also all imperfect, we all make mistakes.

There are no humans who truly make it through their whole lives feeling perpetually strong, having it ‘all together’ the whole time, without any obvious weakness, vulnerability or struggle. Some people might like to project that mirage to others but the reality is we are all imperfect and fragile in similar and different ways. The fact is, our common humanity dictates that – if we do live to old age – all this will become more than evident, as eventually our body and mind fade and stop working altogether. If we do not live that long then death perhaps will ‘take us out’ early, again brutally revealing our weakness and mortality.

It’s this understanding of our ‘common humanity’ that helps us to become more loving, empathetic and compassionate people. This is why it is actually in times of trial and suffering that our deepest bonds with other humans can be formed – through mutual understanding, love and compassion. This is because it’s often only as we come brutally face to face with our own personal weakness and vulnerability that we can potentially connect more wholeheartedly with others because of it.

“The strongest relationships are formed in the heat of difficulty and the confession of weakness… honesty breads more honesty… it’s about sharing our common humanity.” Patrick Regan

Those we can share our whole lives with – our struggles, pain, vulnerabilities, weaknesses, shame and guilt – are those who we generally form the strongest bonds with. Relational safety comes in someone knowing our weakness and failings – but loving and staying loyal to us anyway. This is always when our connection with others becomes more deeply profound.

This is when love is most beautiful and its bonds become most powerful.

It is only when someone sees the depths of your own ‘darkness’ – but chooses to love you regardless – that the true beauty of deep relational connection blossoms. There is perhaps nothing more deeply moving in life than this. This is where true unconditional love abounds.

This is also the place that our sense of compassion is potentially deepened, because we have arrived at a place where we know what it is to be faced with our own darkness, vulnerability, suffering and shame. Our hearts can potentially become softer and more malleable towards others. We have been humbled by the distressing awareness of our weakness, which can make us kinder and more understanding to other’s weaknesses.

However, you will see that I used the word ‘potentially’ in that last paragraph twice! The truth is, not everyone who suffers will show increasing compassion to others. This is because suffering can go two ways: it can cause us to become more self consumed, hardhearted, angry and bitter OR it can help us become more tender, understanding, compassionate and loving.

Ironically, embracing our own weakness and pain in seasons of suffering – but then turning those feelings outward to focus it on having compassion for otherscan actually help alleviate the suffering of both of us. Suffering always grows darker the more it pulls us back into ourselves. Compassion, instead, provides a light for the both the giver and receiver – as the giver directs their own pain into helping alleviate the pain of someone else.

Acting to alleviate another’s suffering helps bring more meaning and purpose to our own.

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In reality though: in what ways can we practically act compassionately? Especially when in so many situations what we can actually do is so restricted?

The thing is, compassion doesn’t demand that we fully fix another’s difficult situation. For instance, when I was immensely suffering from an acute spinal fluid leak in recent years – I couldn’t reach out to another, who was also leaking, and fix their main physical problem. As much as I would have liked to have done so, we were both somewhat at the mercy of a debilitating and misunderstood condition. We couldn’t actually ‘fix’ it ourselves – we needed compassionate doctors to help. However, there are so many ways I could respond to and share another’s pain and act with compassion to their suffering.

Just telling another that we ‘get it’ and understand their pain can be an act of compassion. Which is one of the reasons I decided to write so honestly in this blog. If we can humbly ‘get over’ our own fears and insecurities of ‘getting real’ about our struggles, we can then choose to act compassionately by connecting and reaching out to another honestly – amidst our own, and their, pain. We can’t just think about it – that is sympathy or empathy. Compassion calls us to act on those feelings and practically connect to encourage, support and hopefully help alleviate some of the potential loneliness of suffering. Simply hearing ‘I get it’ means a lot to someone really struggling. This is often the first step in acting compassionately.

Giving your time to support someone struggling through spending time with them in person, over the phone or digitally can be an important act of compassion. Often patiently listening to them process their struggle and trying to understand their pain can help them immensely. Or simply looking for ways to encourage or uplift them in an empathetic way by sending some kind words, a card or gift. Practically, if we do live near by we might show compassion by cooking a meal, taking their kids to school or on a day out, or offering to drive them to a hospital appointment.

Little acts of compassion can speak the loudest when someone is struggling to make it through the next hour, let alone the next day. It was often the things above that spoke the loudest to me at the darkest moments of my own journey with a debilitating long term illness.

“Do small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa

Compassion doesn’t always require us to do something BIG! In fact, normally we can’t do something big – even if we had more time and resources. Many situations cannot be changed overnight with one action. There is a long and arduous process involved in acceptance, change and potential recovery. Compassion is often most profoundly shared in the little acts. The little things that shows someone in pain that you understand (or are trying to) and that you care.

However…

We need to keep in mind that the first step to being ‘moved with compassion’ – in choosing to ‘co-suffer’ with another – is that genuine compassion requires us to SEE and feel that person’s pain and struggle first. Before we do or say anything! That way, our words and actions will pour out from that heartfelt overflow of empathy. They will then be more obviously genuine and tender. You can’t fake compassion – it is easy to see in someone’s eyes, words and body language whether their supposedly compassionate words and actions are truly real or simply forced. In my own experience this can often be a problem for members of the medical profession, especially those who have lost that connection with their and their patients ‘common humanity’. 

Genuine compassion will only flow out of our true hearts, when we have first seen, felt and embraced our own pain, vulnerability and weakness. If we have not done that effectively, if we insist on denying and attempting to cover over our own human brokenness, we will simply become increasingly self focused and self absorbed human beings who spend their time pridefully keeping up their mirage of strength and pretension at other’s expense. This will inevitably end up with those people getting increasingly frustrated with others or even despising other’s suffering – rather than being moved with compassion by it.

Is it not time to see more compassion in our world? Whether it’s loving the poverty stricken orphan in Ethiopia through child sponsorship, or simply actively listening to or taking a meal round for a friend or neighbour who is struggling. Can you imagine if our neighbourhoods, schools, hospitals and workplaces were full of truly compassionate people who knew personal pain, but could look past it, to recognise it in another. We could then support one another through the ups and downs of life without judgment, misunderstanding or ignorance.

Perhaps, if we embraced our own pain more, tried to understand it, then turned it outward to connect with another equal human – then we would all suffer a little less throughout our own unique life journeys. Compassion rarely makes all the pain go away. But all of our collective small acts of compassion can become another necessary cog in the bigger wheel of changing our world for the better – person, by person.

“Love your neighbour as yourself.” – The Bible (Mark 12:31)

So let us not forget that we are ALL the same. We all share a common humanity. We must try to love as we would want to be loved. Try to care, as we would like to be cared for. Try to understand, as we would want to be understood. Try to show the compassion that we would like to receive.

In the hope that little by little, kind word by kind word, small act by small act, we might help alleviate some more of the suffering and pain in this world – TOGETHER!

“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.” – Henri Nouwen