One of my biggest fears about our trip to Africa is having my heart pulled in so many directions. Yet, in just 29 days, Betty, Robyn, Allison, Aaron, Malcolm, Dan, and I will be challenged in ways that we have never experienced. Coming face to face with our new African friends will evoke incredible emotion within each of us. Our compassion will build and we will find ourselves struggling. Fortunately, Dr. Betty Gilmore will be leading our group and teaching us and others about the very real stress surrounding compassion and compassion fatigue.
I have a dog. Togo is a gregarious, wolf-husky mix who loves to play and to chew and to run. I forgot to mention that he loves to play tug-of-war.
Tonight, I was reading about Rwanda and its history. The impact of genocide, violence, and poverty has been exacerbated by the greed of a world that allows and promotes devastation and exploitation. In the midst of those scenarios, however, are the unbelievable stories of beautiful, lovable people. I found myself very sad and despondent. I became even more morose as I thought about the multitude of places all over the world where those same scenes are playing out.
Since Dr. Betty was miles away from Abilene and not available for a consultation, I went to my next best option. Seriously. Togo is an excellent therapist.
His counseling methods are a little unconventional, but I imagine they are similar to Mazzie Star, Brisbane, Bella, and that tortoise of Betty’s. And, of course, all those other pets of team members I have yet to meet. That long list of furry (and reptilian) friends is what gives me great comfort in my teammates. People who love animals have compassion. And people with compassion have a deep love for people.
Notice, I said deep love. Sometimes compassionate people cover their feelings with busyness or a tough exterior. That was one of the things I was talking to Togo about in our backyard session tonight.
Why do some people melt so easily when presented with the needs of others? And why do some exert so much energy keeping their compassion bottled up within? Don’t we all have an inherent motivation to help others?
Togo thinks that it has much to do with the game of tug-of-war. One would think that the object of the game is to pull on the rope until you overpower your playmate. But Togo insists that proper form is demonstrated when, upon pulling the rope free, you immediately return it to the hand of your foe. Those who have compassion understand that, even if they are in a place to win, they must restore power and respect to others as soon as they can. They must share their privilege. It is only right. And it ensures that the game — and the relationship — will continue.
Compassion is a commitment to keep everyone involved. Compassion is a deep desire to include all people. Compassion requires the strength to put others needs above your own.
As we have trained for our time in Africa, we have been coached to emphasize relationships. Showing interest in those we meet will do more good than any theory or concept we might introduce. Compassion demands our genuine interest in other people.
In just a few short weeks, we will be ensnared by our compassion. And our best response will be ensuring that every single individual remains engaged. True compassion is a commitment to continued relationship.
Togo’s take on compassion? Winning tug-of-war is never as fulfilling as playing tug-of-war.