On dealing with disappointment of a grand scale with compassion

“When we focus on our gratitude, the tide of disappointment goes out and the tide of love rushes in.” — Karen Armstrong

Disappointment. And Compassion? I guess Karen Armstrong thinks so. I have to admit, though, that I struggled a lot to get started with this month’s #1000Speak post. For some reason this topic has been more difficult for me than usual to build the connection. Partially, I think, it’s because when we are compassionate beings, we don’t lose that compulsion to act simply because we are dealing with a personal, or a global, disappointment. We may lack the energy, or time, or means, to act on that desire – but the desire remains strong. So in my bubble, I saw it as less of a dichotomy.

So, maybe the place for someone like me to start is with the word itself. According to most disctonaries, disappointment is the feeling of sadness/unhappiness/dissatisfaction caused the the failure to attain or achieve something that we’d hoped for or expected. Unlike regret, which relates to our own actions, disappointment is focused on the results. And certainly we’ve all dealt with our share (or more) of disappointments (with or without regrets) as we’ve moved through our lives.

“It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.” — William Blake

Our ability to deal with those personal disappointments and move forward depends largely on our resilience. And many of the things that disappoint us lie outside of our control – and so to disappointment we can often add a feeling of frustration. And it becomes all too easy to become angry at the sources – or perceived sources – of our disappointment and frustration. When this all happens at a personal level, we generally find ways forward – and even manage some positivity toward the source of our frustration. Sometimes we don’t, but at the personal level the way os often clearer to us. But what happens when the scale is larger, our ability to control events is nearly nonexistent, and our frustration and disappointment are looming like a wall blocking our path?

That’s pretty much where I am right now, so I can relate. My wiring is far more logical than spiritual, and I’m verbally oriented. Writing is one way I help myself work through things (probably apparent to many of you). Reading is another. Talking – both to those that agree with me and to those that don’t.  I’ve made some progress, but I’m still working my way forward.

I’m assuming that most of you are already aware that I’m very disappointed in the results of the recent US election. Not to belabor a point, or to turn this into a political post (it really isn’t meant to be one, so please bear with me), but there are many things to be concerned about after the US election. There are things, even for an American, to be concerned about with Brexit. I’ve written before about the nationalism that is on the rise in Europe, the US, and elsewhere in the world. And I feel that rise is inherently dangerous because it promotes the ‘Us’ vs ‘Them’ thinking that can only lead to instability and war. But, I’ve also tried to stress that education is critical – if you don’t understand what’s outside your own bubble, you lose your compassion for those on the other side. And keeping that perspective is so very important since most of us can only act within our own spheres, but as long as we share our knowledge, and continue to act with compassion and understanding, our actions can ripple outward. And I do not believe that the majority of people support all of what those nationalists are selling. So if the majority can be reached, then the trend can be reversed. Potentially more so here in the US, where voter turnout is appalling in a national election and even worse in the mid-term elections.

“Political ignorance helps explain Americans’ perpetual disappointment with politicians generally, and presidents especially, to whom voters unrealistically attribute abilities to control events.” — George Will

In my own view, maintaining compassion after this election requires first that we understand, and not hate, those that voted for Trump not because they are not, by and large, racist/misogynistic/xenophobic, but because they were already disappointed with the status quo and were desperate for change. In Trump, they believed that there was change to be found, and that that change would benefit them. Regardless of my own views on whether they will see the change they want, I have a responsibility to see them as fellow humans deserving of compassion and an attempt at understanding. I do not, much to the chagrin of some of my friends, see them as enablers of the the white supremacists, new-nazis, KKK members and other haters that have crawled boldly out of the woodwork. They, like many people now, and many others throughout history, did not really believe that those Trump supporters were a threat because they didn’t see themselves through that lens, and they never believed (could not conceive of the notion, in fact) that Trump meant the things he said (or didn’t say) that kept those fringe groups in his court. That same disaffection is being used by nationists throughout the world right now to convince voters that their economic situations can only improve if they become a little less open.

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

If we want to channel our disappointment with these events into a positive and maintain our compassion, we have give ourselves the ability to realize that those that those on the fringes are most likely unreachable, as are those that have been perpetuating the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ thinking that is pushing us apart, and that some things will always be out of our control. Most importantly, we have to reach out to those that voted for the ‘wrong’ change for the ‘right’ reasons so that they can see that the divide between us is not unbridgeable, and that we have more common ground than they (or we) believe. The only way to face down, and triumph over, the truly racist and xenophobic factions is to face them together. There is more than a small amount of truth the the ‘united we stand, divided we fall’ axiom – and the United States original motto E Pluribus Unum – from many, one – shows that our foundations are based on unity. We are better than this – and it’s time that we showed it.

“Still, we will let all this be a thing of the past, though it hurts us, and beat down by constraint the anger that rises inside us.
Now I am making an end of my anger. It does not become me, unrelentingly to rage on”  — Homer, The Iliad



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