Compassion is painful. That’s how you know it’s working.

I’m sad about last night for a lot of reasons.  And if you are human, and allow yourself to be so, then you probably are too.  Maybe it’s the verdict that upset you, or the destruction afterwards, or the long and difficult path that has led us here and has shown us we have so much further to go before we get to the place where we want to be…a place where kindness and compassion and vulnerability are the things which can be lauded and seen and encouraged and felt.  Or maybe, like me, you’re upset about all of those things and you feel too defeated to want to care anymore.

But if you’re like me, you can’t switch those emotions off.  It’s so much easier to turn those feelings of vulnerability and hurt into a shield of rage.  Rage feels powerful and strong.  It feels good.  And rage is important.  But not at the cost of compassion.  If, like me, today you woke up weary and wanting to become numb, or turn away, or lash out angrily at everyone involved then I feel you.  But I encourage you to keep compassion at the forefront.  Remember humanity.  Remember that your words and actions make a difference.  Remember that the majority of us are so much better than the worse things we see in the news, and that so many of us are leading a quiet revolution to be kind, and compassionate, and to listen to the hurt, and amplify the things that will make a positive difference in our world.  It’s a quiet revolution that will never be covered on CNN.  It’s a movement of people who redirect anger to kindness.  Who listen even when it’s painful.  Who take the hurt of others on ourselves and feel it so that we can become better people.  Who wade into horrible online threads and inject compassion and reason because we know that it can become contagious if done the right way.  Who hope that reason and empathy will somehow lead to a place which is safer for our children and grandchildren.

Yesterday someone sent me this photo and it’s stayed with me, and it helped.  If you’re like me, maybe it’ll help you too.

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant? ~ Henry David Thoreau

I don’t usually write about serious things like this because I think of this blog as a place for us to get away from the crazy bullshit of the world.  A place to laugh and heal and be ridiculous.  But sometimes healing comes in different ways and I need to write this so I can let go of some of this angst and refocus on what positive things I can do next.  Like donating to the Ferguson Library, which has served as a quiet sanctuary for so many children and adults.

Tomorrow we’ll be back to ridiculous cat pictures and possibly a story about an alligator in my toilet.  And tomorrow we’ll still feel compassion for the people who are struggling, and will continue to do our best to enact positive changes in our own ways.

I hope to God both of those things are true.

143 thoughts on “Compassion is painful. That’s how you know it’s working.

Read comments below or add one.

  1. “Err in the direction of kindness”. I don’t know who said it but it bear repeating again and again.

  2. Reblogged this on DE TODO UN POCO and commented:
    Prometo que lo traduciré. Lo más pronto que me sea posible. Sin embargo, no podía dejar de postear esta nota. Muy oportuna sin importar donde estés ni cuándo la leas, por favor hazlo. Todo lo mejor para ti.

  3. Beautifully written and incredibly wise. We are all basically good but that doesn’t mean we can’t cause incredible harm sometimes.

    “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

    Life is hard enough without us causing one another harm.

  4. Thank you for writing so eloquently about this. Take note, bloggers, this is how it is done.

  5. I know exactly how you feel. Life is too short for the rage. I’d rather spread kindness and compassion. I lost my best friend and my mother within six months of each other to Cancer. I realized then how short life is – too short to be angry all of the time.

  6. As a law enforcement wife I am struggling mightily to find any sort of balance today. Your post is the only thing I’ve found worth reading on the internet in the past 24 hours. Thank you for this.

  7. Thank you for celebrating the good that humanity has to offer, while the vast majority of the media does not. Last night was tough as I watched what transpired on my television…it was like I told a friend, it seemed like I was watching a civil rights documentary…not live TV, especially since it was taking place less then 20 miles away from my home. I am a born-bred St. Louisian and pray that we will find peace together.

  8. Thanks for sharing your feelings on a tough day. You have a voice that helps to soften the sharp edges of my life. Makes me feel more human. Have a better day!

  9. You have found unity and purpose in the midst of the divisiveness and destruction: “Maybe it’s the verdict that upset you, or the destruction afterwards, or the long and difficult path that has led us here and has shown us we have so much further to go before we get to the place where we want to be … a place where kindness and compassion and vulnerability are the things which can be lauded and seen and encouraged and felt.”

  10. Thank you for. Being you. I thank my fellow readers of you because I know you are listening. We shall lead with compassion and kindness through the harshest of storms.

  11. I hadn’t yet been to the news sites, and now I’m afraid to. Maybe the world will look better tomorrow.

  12. It’s so hard, because it’s just so frustrating when you keep caring. But you have to keep caring, because that’s what makes you human. <3

  13. Thank you for being you. Thank you to your readers who I believe are listening and will continue to lead with compassion and kindness through the harshest storms.

  14. Every small act of kindness, display of compassion, an uplifting smile makes a difference. I am so glad I clicked over to read your words today. Thank you for writing this. It is hard to think of anything else right this minute!

  15. Thank you for this post. I love my city and am not blind to its many faults. I’m hoping and praying for an easier night than last night. I did wake up this morning feeling raw and broken knowing that the town I’ve spent my entire life in and love so much is in so much pain. In the wee hours of the morning, it seemed like a lost cause. As daylight broke, there are residents outside, comforting each other, cleaning the mess and doing their best to make things right. Those are the things that I will focus on today and tonight. I know that we have a long way to go and I hope that the issues that have been brought into the light in the last few months isn’t buried. I hope that solutions and healing can happen here. Thank you again for this entry.

  16. Well said, Jenny. So sad that CNN doesn’t pick up the bright stories, the goodness. The silent protests, no, they only show the ugly side of humanity.

  17. It’s also ok if you have to turn away for a bit, if you can’t even.
    As long as you recognize that being able to turn away is a privilege that many do not have.

  18. Thank you for this. Donating to the library is such a wonderful idea and I immediately did. Hopefully they will see donations coming in all with your words attached about how it is “a quiet sanctuary for so many children and adults.”

  19. This reminds me of this pin:
    Turn Fury Into Love
    It’s something I remind myself every day. I don’t have the best comebacks, I listen when people point out my faults. It pains me so much. And then I word puke it in the draft pages of my blog and feel creative and superior about myself 😛 I suppose that makes me a horribly disillusioned person, but I’m trying to do the best I can.

    ~hugs and kisses~ Jenny. It’s a quiet revolution indeed <3

  20. You are much stronger than I am. I’m afraid to engage so many times because then I learn that sometimes my own family or friends that are pushing hatred and that just puts a knife in my heart.

    Your words, your commenters, give me hope that all is not lost. I hope to one day regain some strength and join you.

  21. Thank you for the idea and link to the Ferguson library. My heart is hurting for them all. Donating.

  22. I’ve been struggling today with how to write about this on my blog. I feel more hopeless than before that we can create positive change, but I thank you for your emphasis on compassion. I’m going to link your post on my blog. I’m always thankful for you, usually for making me laugh in the face of absurdity, but today for saying what I cannot.

  23. You summed up and expressed everything wonderfully. Thank you for being you and putting into words what so many of us feel but can’t express. Be sure to check your toilet before using tomorrow, just in case of alligators.

  24. I also feel sad for poor Ferguson, caught in the crosshairs of such anger and violence. The verdict didn’t surprise me. Neither did the rage. I feel for people who believe their lives and voices don’t matter. Great idea to donate to the library. Maybe out of Ferguson will come a great man or woman someday to lead us out of this misery.

  25. Thanks so much for thinking of us. I blog about fun things to do in St. Louis, but today…I’m just bummed. Do I promote all the Christmas light shows going on this weekend, or will some scum sucker ruin it? Should I talk about Small Business Saturday? I was invited to come out to Cherokee Street (a great area for antiquing) but will there be protesters laying the street, pretending to be dead and scaring the kids? There’s life sized gingerbread houses at a local casino restaurant, what a great idea for a mom’s night out…or is it? Damn it.

  26. I couldn’t be prouder that that book was a) checked out of the library and b) checked out of a branch from my city. I am so glad you shared this.

    Donating to a library in Ferguson is a very good idea. Education is important.

    So is having an open dialogue about racism.

    I still feel sickened by last night’s news. I am so sad for Michael Brown’s parents.

    They are now on a clear mission to change the system and I believe they will. I hope we can all help in some way.

    Thank you for keeping the conversation going.

  27. Thank you, Jenny. You’ve summed up my jumbled feelings with your post. It’s an honor to be comrades-in-arms in the quiet revolution with you.

  28. Dear sweet Jenny. Thank you for saying this all so well. I have contributed before and I will be sending again, my support to the Ferguson library. I am angry and sad and I thank you.

  29. I think that quote is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. Thank you, thank you for sharing it.

  30. Thank you, for providing a sanctuary for everyone out there who cares and struggles and feels the frustration and hopelessness that inevitably follows when something so wrong happens. But most of all thank you for the reminder that we are not helpless and that choosing kindness and compassion do matter and make a difference–and that we are all part of that quiet revolution.

  31. You said exactly what I’ve been thinking, but I couldn’t put into words. Thanks for doing that for so many of us, so many times. You make a difference.

  32. Your words hit close to home for me. No, I don’t live near Ferguson. But ten days ago, a young man was killed less than a block from my house. A few nights ago his friends had a vigil outside his house. As they were leaving, a small group of them decided it would be fun to vandalize cars up and down the street. Yes, our car roof and fender were dented in; at least they didn’t smash all the windows, like they did the car next door. Strangely, I was only angry for a little while; mostly I felt deep sadness, that they would have this response to a tragedy, by trying to cause pain to other people.

    I have to confess I totally and utterly fail to see the connection between mourning a friend’s death and voluntarily destroying the property of his neighbors. That’s a group of young men who clearly could benefit from your message, but I suspect they’ll never even put themselves in a position to hear it because they’ve already chosen to take the opposite direction in their own lives. 🙁

    (“I have to confess I totally and utterly fail to see the connection between mourning a friend’s death and voluntarily destroying the property of his neighbors.” I get it. That’s the hardest part of compassion. Struggling to see the connection of why people do what they do. I don’t understand it either but I also don’t understand the stupid decisions I made when I was young either. I know very few people who never knocked over a mailbox or broke a window or spray painted something ridiculous or shoplifted something just because everyone else was doing it. Most of us didn’t even have a reason. I try to be compassionate to the stupid girl I was who sometimes did destructive things for no reason, occasionally even destructive things that would only hurt myself. Then it’s easier to be compassionate when other people break my car mirror or egg my house or do things that seem so pointless. It’s like I’m being visited by the confused ghost of a younger me and somehow that makes it easier to accept and forgive, and being able to forgive and let it go is a tremendous gift I give to myself. I grew into someone who doesn’t understand the poor decisions I once made. I’d like to hope we all get to that point one day. ~ Jenny)

  33. I’ve been struggling with depression a lot lately. There have been some very dark moments. I took Jenny’s book out of the library for a much needed laugh. Finding the post-it and then sharing the post-it has brought a great deal of peace, calm and even joy to me at this time.

    Thank you Jenny. I am honoured you shared the photo. And I will be leaving it in the book when I return it. 🙂

  34. Thank you for the link to donate to the Ferguson Library. This gave me something to do. My sadness, frustration, fury, impotence have been highly depressing. Making that donation gave me a better way to focus than creating a T-shirt saying “30 seconds since a white police officer has shot a unarmed black teenager. How long until the next one?” (Grouchy white woman in her sixties here. If I were a young black man, I have no idea how my sadness, frustration, fury, impotence would play out.)

  35. Thanks for your kind and sensible words……hoping that more folks heed this path.

  36. Well said. I am a little numb about the whole ordeal. At the crux of the whole matter is fear, from the shooting event through last night. So sad. I pray for us.

  37. I love that you donated to the library. Libraries, to me, are places of hope and upliftment,a sign we’re more brain than brawn. And amen to the silent revolution. I wish the media covered it with the air time it covers all the horrific bits.

  38. Beautifully written…thanks for the library donation link, made me feel like I could do something tangible to help, even in a small way.

  39. I needed this so bad today. You said everything I was feeling, in a way no one else has that I’ve seen, and I just…thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Donating to the library, because mine was my sanctuary as a child too and we need sanctuaries more than ever.

  40. I don’t know what to say and I damn sure don’t know how to say it. This whole discussion has been a trigger for shooting me into an emotional hole.

    Thanks for sharing this, Jenn. It helps. (May I call you Jenn?)

    (Yes. Yes you can. ~ Jenny)

  41. From my heart to yours: Thank You. Staying in compassion takes a special courage. We soldier on.

  42. This occurred a couple of hours ago out in the Nave of the Cathedral where I work here in St. Louis. We are in the midst of a 24 hour prayer vigil for peace in our region:

    “Just now during our prayer vigil as we finished singing, a man began to sob. Another man, a stranger to him, moved over and put his arm around him and sat with him in his tears. A woman, also a stranger to him, walked over and gave him a tissue, which he used to dry his eyes. Not a word was spoken.”

    Whether you are a person of prayer of just believe in sending out positive karma into the universe, we can use all you’ve got right now.

  43. Well said. St. Louis has been my home for over a decade now, and I am heartsick at how the media and a tiny group of people are giving the world a view of this region that is so far from accurate. One note–I’m involved with a number of non-profits in town, and millions upon millions of local dollars are flooding into Ferguson at the expense of other regional agencies who feed hungry children, shelter homeless teenagers, provide prenatal care to pregnant teens, crisis care for families in need, employment education to veterans, etc. Just a cautionary note to not forget that the need for compassion is greater than in just one small section of this region–I would highly recommend the United Way of Greater St. Louis, which has the flexibility and accountability to ensure that money goes to where it is most needed, including Ferguson.

  44. Similar to @fillyourownglass, I am law enforcement family. My 23-year old son is a State Trooper in a troubled area – I couldn’t read anything on Twitter last night and forget the news/newspapers/online news today. It’s a matter of balance and understanding that, whatever the circumstances – the loss of a child is a horrendous loss. Any child.

  45. Thank you Jenny, for such a wise and humane response. I’m not American, but I still feel quite upset about all this and about the wider issue that sees so many (black) people killed by police. I do hope and pray that the tide might slightly change from fear, anger and violence towards more productive methods of interaction between police and the community.

  46. Thank you for the brilliant idea of donating to the Ferguson Public Library. I just donated (and it looks like many of your readers have done the same – your writing makes a difference, Jenny.)

  47. As a lifelong resident of St. Louis, I’m vacillating between letting myself be sad and making stupid jokes. I enjoy the latter one much more. I also struggle with wanting to play ostrich because I don’t want to be confrontational to friends and family members with opposing views (it’s times like these I really hate Facebook).

    Please pray for snow in St. Louis so families divided can talk about the weather instead of attacking each other over this topic at Thanksgiving dinner. Egads. Better yet, pray for peace and justice for all.

  48. Thank you for this. It reminds me of what Gandhi called satyagraha or soul force. The strength of non-violence is not in weapons or numeric advantage, but in clinging to truth. It is not easy or soft or passive. It does not involve ignoring injustice or wishing it would go away. Rather satyagraha’s steadfast commitment to humanity and refusal to inflict harm can take tremendous strength, courage, and stamina. It requires you to stare unblinkingly in the face of hostility for extended periods of time, under extreme conditions, with no guarantee that you will be successful in the immediate situation. There is more on it here:

  49. I have a colleague in St. Louis that took time off from work today to teach children at the Fergus on Library to any child who couldn’t attend school due to the shut down. He’s a prime of example of putting compassion into action! His organization is inspirational.

  50. All day I was wondering what I could do and your suggestion about the library was perfect. Donation made. Thank you!

  51. You kind of have to lean into life to move it in the direction you want. Every action has an effect; try to make them good on the balance.

  52. I wish you had a guest book because I wasn’t sure where to add this too, but I just watched this online and I read your blog all the time so my first thought was I wonder if the person that bought this mermaid corpse for $1500 was you. lol just curious.

  53. Thank you. So much has been written with such passion on both sides of an argument which, from this side of the pond has been sensationalised and turned into something hellbent on dividing people, pitching them against one another, and mostly to sell magazines and airtime. It all feels like a smokescreen to prevent us from focusing on the fact that PEOPLE MATTER. All people. And that we belong to each other, and all the time we allow these things to split us into angry, shouting factions, we lose, because we forget the humanity in those opposite us.


  54. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one that thinks things the way I think them, and today I felt that way. Then I read this post and rediscovered, yet again, that I’m not the only one. Far from it. I don’t know why I continue to forget. Thank you for reminding me.

  55. The only thing I feel sad and angry about is a young man whose parents did not teach him to respect other peoples property, the law and his parents. I’m angry that he thought it was ok for him to rob a minimart that someone spent their whole life putting together because he felt the need for a smoke. I’m sad that this young man’s actions turned a nation against a small town and caused so much destruction and mayhem. People say the lesson in this tragedy is to get the police to respond properly to a call without jeopardizing a life. No…the lesson here is to respect your fellow man and not to do harm to your fellow man because you never know when your actions will have that domino effect in bringing about immense pain and suffering to the people around you. That is what is most frustrating…trying to get people to understand to teach your children the same qualities that you mentioned above so we don’t see this happen again.

  56. When possible, be kind. It is always possible. ~ Dalai Lama.
    This was beautiful, thank you!

  57. Nicely written, I’ve been saddened and angered by what’s going on over in the ‘states but I feel like I shouldn’t be weighing in with my opinion as someone who doesn’t live there and is not involved. Nonetheless watching the news about it makes me angry that we don’t live in a world where difference is accepted and even celebrate. I hold out hope though that eventually we’ll get there.

  58. You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty. – Mahatma Gandhi

  59. “amplify the things that will make a positive difference in our world.”
    A powerful phrase Jenny dear, a powerful phrase.

  60. I always thought that “DEF CON” (the defense readiness condition) was “Death Con”, as in how likely it was that people were going to die. I thought I was so proud of myself because I DID know that it goes from 1 to 5, with 1 being the highest (in my mind, the most likelihood of a massive terrorist attack where many people would die, but in reality, the highest state of military alert).

    Also, I still disagree about this one, but apparently (according to my husband, Wikipedia, and many many other people), the non-human characters on Sesame Street are also Muppets. I, however, still claim that Muppets are Kermit, Miss Piggy et al, as seen in the Muppet movies, while the Sesame Street characters are not Muppets (though I don’t have a good definition for what they are). Just like the Fraggle Rock characters are (in my mind) NOT MUPPETS! I think I lose that one, though.

  61. Donated. Thank you, Jenny, for putting into words what I want to say but haven’t been able to articulate.

  62. …from your candle, to another, and another one. In the middle of paying my bills, I made a donation to the Ferguson library. Thanking you for making bill paying a graceful experience, for once.

  63. My first thought on reading this was “Wow, Jenny really has her shit together” and then I realized I was talking about the Bloggess and had to laugh at myself. Not being on ANY social media sites or even having TV in my house, this is the only thing I’ve read about this and I think it’s great. It’s all I need, right?

  64. I shared your suggestion about the Ferguson Library. Then I re-read this and realized that the picture of your book is from MY library! I’m not the one who left the note though (but I wish I had!)

  65. Thank you. It’s beautiful,and unusual in its kindness. All good things to you.

  66. Two days ago, I had an unfortunate encounter with a garbage disposal and a very sharp kitchen knife, and now I have a thumb full of stitches and an arm I can barely move thanks to the tetanus shot. Which sucks…but it means all I can do tomorrow is drink wine. No cooking (though I would love to make that turkey), no dishes, just yummy, yummy wine. Hmmm…I am pretty thankful about that.
    Happy Thanksgiving, Jenny and the tribe.

  67. Just wanted to add one of my favorite quotes from Brennen Manning: The heartfelt compassion that hastens forgiveness matures when we discover where our enemy cries

  68. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” – Mr. Rogers

    My friend’s daughter attends St. Louis University, and it’s a scary time for the students there. So thanks for the shout-out to the Ferguson Library–an entire little community of helpers.

  69. Thank you – we live in St. Charles county which has been rumored to be targeted by protestors. My daughter works at the mall which has heightened security but I still worry. Monday night we sat in our darkened living room with 8 of my daughters friends listening to the verdict. The ‘kids’ are all 19 and 20 and sat glued to the TV. I thought to myself that in 10 – 15 years they will be telling their children about the night they sat in the dark watching CNN in my living room. Tensions have been high for a couple of weeks here – in a way I’m releived that the verdict is out but I’m also even more worried about backlash.
    I did not read the evidence nor was I present at the shooting so I don’t feel that I can have an opinion either way on the verdict – I’m just sad at the resulting violence no matter which side.

  70. Thank you so much for posting this. I needed this reminder in the context of my personal life but I appreciate it in the broader context for which you wrote it, too.

  71. For four years, my husband and I have been trying to get pregnant. We have completed 4 IVF cycles, spent more money than I want to admit, had a combined 16 procedures between the 2 of us, and have given me hundreds of shots at home. It’s been a journey. Three weeks ago, we found out it finally worked and we were pregnant. Today, we found out we are miscarrying. For some reason, this was the next blog entry on my Bloglovin’ when I opened it for a distraction. I just want you to know that I will be burying my sorrows tonight in a bottle of wine and “Let’s Pretend this Never Happened.” You are a good woman, Jenny Lawson. Thank you for all you do!

  72. I just found this today (I read your book and loved it and found you, but don’t read your blog on a regular basis). This post is months old so I am not even for sure if you will even find this and read it but if you do I just wanted to say thanks for this post. I really needed it today. Although I love the crazy posts about cats and alligators in the toilet and all of that (the laughing helps me to destress) I really needed a deep, thoughtful, serious post (this exact one) about how the struggle is ok and to just keep fighting. Basically, this comment ended up being way longer than I anticipated but I just wanted to say thank you.

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