“You don’t understand. I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I need you to be compassionate.”
In that moment, she felt the all too familiar feeling of what it was like to be a Canadian born Chinese wanting to connect with her Chinese heritage.
When Ming* (name changed) first came to see me, she was hunched forward as if she was carrying too heavy a burden. She nervously pushed her glasses up the tip of her nose before letting her long black hair drop forward to cover part of her face.
When I asked this young Chinese woman what she needed, Ming made the following comment:
Through my talking with Ming, I found out her Chinese grandmother had been the one primarily responsible for her caregiving while she was growing up. Her grandmother, who was living with Ming’s family, had immigrated to Canada from China with Ming’s parents in the early 1980s. Ming described her Chinese grandmother as someone high on criticism and low on praise.
As soon as Ming was old enough to speak and read English, she became the official translator of the family. For example, she was asked to translate things like government applications, bank letters, and even verbal conversations between grown-ups. Ming had to perform these tasks even though she was only a young child at the time.
Conforming to the Chinese grandmother’s life philosophy, Ming’s parents expected their daughter to do as she was told or be shamed as a “bad” seed for making her family “lose” face by being “non-compliant.”
When I asked Ming what she did in her spare time as a kid, she replied that, unlike many other Canadian children her age, she swept the floors in her family’s shared condo, folded laundry, and often acted as her baby brother’s keeper while her grandmother was taking a nap.
Let me ask you …
Have you ever found yourself in a challenging situation?
Hunching forward even more, Ming talked about her built-up resentment over the years. She said that in her Chinese family, whatever her parents blamed on her grandmother, her grandmother turned around and blamed it on her. Ming was tired of those emotional games and that was the reason why she was coming to see me. As a Canadian born Chinese, she wanted to connect with her Chinese heritage without feeling resentful anymore.
Can you imagine what it’s like to feel resentful?
I asked Ming,
“What do you need to let go of resentment?”
Ming said that she needed to become compassionate. That was why she had asked me to be compassionate when we first met. She wanted to learn how to practice compassion with herself and the people in her environment.
“What is the Chinese traditional view on compassion?”
Ming immediately iterated that compassion was viewed as a weakness, because it was linked to pity, sympathy or over-empathy. Considering that Chinese traditional view on compassion, I offered:
What if compassion has nothing to do with pity, sympathy or over-empathy?
Ming looked at me, puzzled. She pushed her glassed up the tip of her nose again and sat straighter. She asked me what I believe compassion is. This is what I have shared with her:
It is my belief,
I offered Ming the following analogy:
A little girl goes playing in a nearby field from her house with her beloved dog. It is a bright summer day and she is enjoying picking up wild flowers to make a bouquet for her mother. The flowers are enticing and she is getting further and further away from her home.
All of a sudden, she walks onto some rotten planks and she falls into an abandoned well. The well is profound enough that she needs help to get back out. Afraid, she starts screaming for assistance and bursts into tears.
Her brother who was a couple of years older than her hears her plight and comes running over to where she was. Standing on the edge of the abandoned well, he looks at his sister and says, “That’s terrible! What just happened to you!” And he stands there, feeling sorry for what has just happened to his sister. But does nothing else.
The little girl is shocked. Why isn’t her brother doing anything? She says to him, “Just don’t stand there! I’m cold and afraid. Do something!”
Suddenly, her brother jumps into the hole to be with her. She looks at him, feeling more powerless than ever. “Why did you do that?” she asks. “Now we’re both stuck!” Her brother immediately starts telling her about that time he had felt cold and afraid.
The two children look at each other. Suddenly, the little girl feels this surge of energy in her heart for her big brother being in a predicament she is now all too familiar with.
Fortunately, watching the whole scene was the dog. When the little girl fell into the abandoned well, the dog started barking to draw attention to her. Really wanting to help, he stayed clear from the edge of the well. He instinctively knew it would be useless for him to fall into the well with her.
When he saw her brother arrive, the dog leaped with joy. But when the boy jumped into the well in sympathy of his sister, he ran back to the house and dragged their mother to the abandoned well, where she safely retrieved her two children.
Let’s recap …
In a state of compassion, we feel what another is feeling,
but we never allow the drama of another to become our own drama.
We remain true to ourselves.
In a state of compassion,
we get what it feels like to walk in another’s shoes,
but we actively remain solution driven.
We get empowerment trumps wallowing.
In light of this …
Why do we become non-compassionate?
Why do we pursue pity, sympathy, or over-empathy?
I believe the answer is, because we think we don’t need to examine our own behaviours. Pity, sympathy, and over-empathy focuses externally while compassion stems from a focus within. If that is true, how was Ming not examining her own behaviours – the role she was playing in feeling disconnected from her Chinese heritage – ever going to help her develop the compassion she needed as a Canadian born Chinese wanting to connect with her Chinese heritage?
Clearly, not examining our own behaviours does not work.
With that in mind …
How do things become better?
I believe, things become better when we focus on
Becoming self-aware. ‘What is needed right now?’
Embracing intentionality. ‘What can I do to provide what is needed?’
Acting accountably. ‘How can I hold myself accountable so I keep providing what is needed?”
I could certainly relate to Ming having lived in China for about ten years. I was married to a Chinese and we had three children together. In our household, compassion was low on the radar of awareness. It wasn’t until I developed compassion that I was then able to assist my children to connect deeper with their Chinese heritage without resentment.
As for Ming, whenever anyone in her family tries to make her feel like a “bad” seed, she says that she now smiles at them with compassion. Because of that, she is enjoying the magnificence of her Chinese heritage.