The photograph – a closeup of one person’s hand in another’s – is arresting.
The hand on the right, palm up, is that of a white person. The hand lying palm-down in the white hand is that of a very small, shockingly emaciated black person. Probably a starving child. Probably in Africa.
The caption reads, “You hate your life, while some people dream of having your life.”
The photo appeared on the Facebook page of Jeremy Lin, point guard for the New York Knicks, in April of this year. It got almost 87,000 “likes” from visitors to Jeremy’s page.
This is what we’re up against.
There’s no denying the emotional impact of the photo. I stared at it myself for several minutes, just taking it in.
Yes, it’s awful to see someone starving when we have more than enough to eat. But the message, “Other people are much worse off than you, so stop complaining,” still strikes me as misguided and damaging.
Have you ever been in a hospital bed, worried, scared or in pain? How much did it actually soothe you to know that other patients were worse off than you?
If it did make you feel better, the effect was only temporary – the result of mental distraction, nothing more.
The fact is that your pain is in no way diminished by comparing it to other people’s.
Just because someone else deserves your compassion, doesn’t mean you don’t deserve your own compassion, too.
Fortunately, compassion is not limited. It doesn’t trade on the stock market, with people who want more shares having to find someone else who wants to sell. There’s plenty of compassion to go around, so don’t skimp.
Go ahead and hate your life; it’s yours to hate. Probably what you’re really feeling is something like anger, despair, regret or envy.
Whatever you feel, you’re entitled. No one gets hurt when you feel sorry for yourself. But when you invoke the spirit of self-compassion, one person gets the sympathy s/he may desperately need: You.
Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net