If I look out my living room window, I don’t have much of a view. I can see the front porch, some of the street, the house across the way. The problem: A big evergreen tree in the front yard blocks most of the view.
If I move to the family room and look out, I see much more – the evergreen tree is no longer in the way. I get a better idea of what’s on the rest of my street.
My view changes and expands.
The back window faces a pretty park. Upstairs, I can look out and see all the way down the street. The basement windows give me a ground-level view of my world, with grass, bugs and flowers. Stuff I couldn’t see from a higher floor.
To get to know what’s outside my house, I have to look through all of the windows, not just one. Each window offers a limited and different view of my world.
Just like each of us.
In a sense, each of us is a window into the world.
Our personalities, our experiences, our inspirations, our talents – each provides a different vantage point into life. Each of us sees only a little bit of it. Our window is very, very small.
What’s it like to be a black person in our society? A poor person? A homeless person? A woman? A teen-ager? A gay person? A Muslim? An atheist? A parent of a special-needs child? A child growing up in a slum? A person suffering from cancer or some other illness?
I don’t know. I have to ask.
The only way I find out is by sitting down and listening. Inviting someone to tell me about their experiences. Encouraging them to share their life story and their feelings with me.
Seeing things through their eyes.
Isn’t that what compassion is all about?
Compassion involves a willingness to set aside ourselves and our assumptions – stepping away from our window – so we can enter into someone else’s world and experience it with them to some degree.
It’s about really listening, which is one of love’s deepest expressions. It’s about trying to understand someone else. Trying to see what they see. Helping them make sense of it. Feeling what they feel.
In order to be compassionate, we have to be willing to see something new, to look at things from a whole new perspective.
Judgment is the opposite of compassion. To judge is to say that we’ve already seen everything there is to see, that we know everything there is to know. We believe that our little window is the only worthwhile vantage point. And it’s never smudged or streaky or broken.
Basically, we’re afraid to look at the world from another vantage point because we’re afraid that we’ll see something different and it will challenge our assumptions about how things are.
And then, we’ll have to do the hard work of changing and growing.
There’s a human tendency – let’s face it, we all have it – to become dogmatic about things. We insist that things have to be done a certain way. Everyone should conform to my outlook.
When we slip into that mindset, we miss out. We’re choosing to pull back the curtains on every window in our house except one. and to live in the darkness.
We suffer as a result. We miss out on an incredible view.
Inviting someone to look out our window takes great humility and courage. Some people will look out our window and grow uneasy because they’re seeing something different, something unexpected.
Others will flat-out refuse to look with us. Instead, they’ll insist that we have to leave our window and go look through theirs alone. Their view is the only one that matters.
But there are others who are eager to visit our window, lean in close to us, and allow us to show them what we see. They’ll train their eyes on the things we point out – what fascinates us, what confuses us, what challenges us.
And if we ask, they’ll help us to see some of the things right in front of us that we’ve failed to recognize. They’ll try to do it with great love and kindness and patience.
After we’ve spent a good, long time looking together, they’ll invite us over to their window. To look out with them for as long as we like. To see some different things. To expand our view.
To love the view together.