I was talking with a friend at work the other day about humility and helping others. He was talking about turning past pain into experiences that better enable him to help people, and about humbling one’s self to be able to truly help people – to serve people, not just look down on them while offering them a hand. Our painful experiences being a vehicle of sorts – that both levels the playing field and gives each of us unique perspectives and strengths.
So it was timely that a Facebook friend posted this today, quoting Rabbi M. M. Schneerson:
“There is compassion that feeds the ego and there is compassion that humbles it.
Compassion that feeds the ego is a sense of pity for those who stand beneath you.
Compassion that humbles is born of a deeper understanding of the order of things:
When you understand that your fellow man is suffering in order that you may be privileged to help him —then you are truly humbled.”
The Rebbe almost gets it, in my opinion. Maybe it’s his wording that strikes me wrong, but when you really get to the core of what he’s saying and the way he says it, we have two slightly different ideas:
- “I have suffered and that enables me to help others who suffer.” (my friend)
- “Suffering exists in the world so that I have the opportunity to grow as a person [or earn merit] by helping others.” (the Rebbe)
Personally, I find my friend’s approach to be the less egotistical, and more compassionate, one.
I have to admit, it’s not the first place I’ve encountered this egotistical fallacy in religious thought – “the poor exist so that we get to give charity,” “suffering is in the world so that the person can earn merit,” etc. Having worked with families who suffer terribly, I refuse to believe that all suffering is good or given by a higher power for reasons individual to the sufferer. Not all suffering is equal to our ability to handle it; not all suffering will be individually significant in the history of the world.
But I agree with my friend at work. Suffering can give us unique strengths and perspective to help the next person we meet who is suffering as well. Suffering offers us a choice in what we make of it.