Compassion vs. Comparison
The other day I was brought into a discussion by a father and daughter about whose loss is “greater” surrounding the death of his 21-year-old son and her brother. As I listened to the father defend his position that the death of a child is the absolute worst loss ever, I watched his daughter become frustrated and sensed her feelings of marginalization about her grief. They both wanted my opinion, and so I gave it to them.
I asked them both to imagine a scenario, one in which the father had tripped and fallen and badly scraped both of his knees, and the girl had fallen and badly scraped both of her elbows. I said, “now both of you are in pain, which of your injuries is the worse”? They both looked at me awkwardly. I asked the father, “looking at your daughters scraped-up elbows does it make you want to reach out and help her?” He of course said “yes”. I asked the daughter, “looking at your father and his scraped-up knees does it make you want to reach out and help him?” She of course said “yes”.
I went a step further and asked the father, “would your scraped-up knees allow you to know exactly how painful your daughters scraped up elbows are”? He said “no, but I am sure I could relate to her pain even though it isn’t exactly like mine”. I then asked him, “if your knees hurt slightly more or slightly less than your daughter’s elbows would it make her pain any less, would it make your pain any greater than it already is”?
As simple as this analogy is, both the father and daughter quickly realized that there is no up-side to comparing losses. Unfortunately, I see people comparing losses often and find it to be very unfortunate. What most of us have learned through our grief experience, is that grief hurts the most when it is our pain. Comparing losses causes us to minimize our compassion for others whose pain is very real and difficult for them.
Sometimes we marginalize our own loss when we see someone whose loss seems so much greater than ours. Unfortunately, this does nothing to help us either. If I had 2 wisdom teeth pulled, and you had one wisdom tooth pulled, would your comparison of how lucky you are to have had only one tooth removed lessen the pain in your mouth?
One of the things I enjoy about traveling the country and speaking and doing workshops is that so many of the people who attend are part of grief support groups. As facilitators and those who want to support others going through a similar loss it is extremely important that we don’t give into comparison of losses and instead always extend compassion. It is not up to any of us to define another’s loss, or to measure the depths of their pain based on our own loss.
Compassion brings us together, comparison breaks us apart.
© 2018 by Alan Pedersen
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