Compassion for Dummies: What To Do When You’re Too Much, But Not Enough

When I go about my daily routines as a student in London, or when I’m back home in Toronto, I often forget where I am in time and space—I grow uncritical and complacent, and allow myself to be coddled by the cloud of security that is Canadian Middle Class Life. I let it convince me that the things I have seen throughout summers abroad are not just as urgent as my academic assignments, filial duties, and period cravings. One of our AH 2200: Creativity in Action guest speakers, the eloquent Julie Young-Marcellin, gave me a wake-up call with her thoroughly inspiring presentation on “Architects of Change” and the steps we can take to make change happen on all levels.

Julie’s entire presentation was dotted with engaging anecdotes and instances of her cute “ex-bank manager humour,” but one story of hers particularly resonated with me. She told our class of her very first volunteer trip, during which she helped out in a Honduran community with a group of women from her own neighbourhood. She recounted how mealtime became an internal dilemma for her—she sat among the group of white women as the only black woman in their exclusive dining area, while the workers always ate in their kitchen quarters. Julie expressed her discomfort with the situation: as a person of mixed racial heritage, she identified with the black Honduran individuals who worked at the facility. However, as a Canadian woman who was raised with privilege, who was living a relatively comfortable life at the time, and who was in the Honduras with the group to “do good,” she didn’t know where the boundaries between herself and the workers lay—she felt stuck.

I know all too well how it feels to float in that space in the middle. I am Chinese-Canadian. Personally, I’ve never felt wholly “Chinese,” nor wholly “Canadian”. When I visit China, I am often perceived as “not Chinese enough” because of the country in which I was raised, and the customs with which I was raised. When I’m in Canada, the place I consider my home, I sometimes feel that I’m “not Canadian enough” because of my Chinese roots. Wherever I am, I am always something foreign: too queer among my straight friends; too immature among my “truly adult” friends; too Canadian in China; too Chinese in Canada.

photo from Mari Andrew’s Instagram

It may seem unlikely (and perhaps impossible) for me to fully know you, or to be touched by your history, or, in turn, to reach out and touch some part of your soul. My biggest takeaway from Julie’s presentation, though, is that anecdote breeds familiarity. Familiarity goes on to breed compassion. Through our compassion for others, selfishness can wane. Others’ problems, problems that seemingly do not involve us at all, become ever so urgent when we listen to people’s stories with equality, equity, and humanity in mind.

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