Back in the 1970’s I had an important realisation.
At the time I was a student in Nottingham University. It was a Saturday afternoon and I was walking up the street towards the Victoria Shopping Centre.
It was busy, hundreds of people walking along, I could see the faces streaming from the entrance of the shopping centre: young, old, couples, families, groups of people and solo shoppers moving along in a river of humanity.
It suddenly dawned on me that behind each and every face was their whole life, just as whole and complex as mine.
They all had childhoods, good and bad experiences, successes, failures, hopes and fears, circles of family, friends and acquaintances.
They weren’t just bit players in my life, they had complete lives of their own.
This was a revelation to me, each new face concealed a universe as big as the one hidden behind my face, and there were so many of them.
This recollection occurred to me as I was teaching the Compassionate Self Acceptance workshop at ChangeCamp+Plus.
I use the model of compassion described by Kristin Neff in her book Self-Compassion which identifies three elements of compassion.
- Common Humanity
I was trying to explain common humanity, the notion that whatever our personal difficulties, these kinds of experiences will have been felt by countless other people.
If you get it, it leads to a broadening of your perspectives. I was having trouble coming up with a concrete example, then I remembered my experience in that Nottingham street 35 years before, which helped me explain this aspect of the process.
So I offer you this as a little experiment in expanding your perceptions of the world.
1. When you find yourself in the company of one or two strangers, perhaps in a doctor’s waiting room, sitting on a bus, in a shop or meeting. Look at each face and consider the idea that behind each face is a whole life as big as yours.
You probably don’t know what has gone on for that person in the past, its minute details you will never know, we will only ever fully inhabit our own lives. So refrain from guessing and just acknowledge that there is another personal universe in the room, similar to your personal universe but with its own unique character.
2. In a situation with a lot of people: on a busy street, at a concert or sports event, look around and acknowledge that behind each and every one of those faces there is a whole life.
Image courtesy of Unlikely Ghost