Coping With Bad News

I am often asked how to deal with bad news from the news. The problem is that when you make a commitment to approach life compassionately, it is very hard to hear about bad news and suffering without also feeling suffering yourself.

Compassion isn’t just empathy. It is fiercely passionate. So coping with strong emotions about something bad that has happened that you personally can’t do anything about is very difficult for most people to handle. The often respond by rationalizing away their compassion. It’s just too difficult an emotional to feel and not being able to do anything about it can leave a person feeling helpless, which doesn’t feel very good at all.

So what is a compassionate, ethical and responsible person to do? How can we feel the fullness of compassion without feeling despondent at our ability to do anything about it?

Here’s how I do it. First, I acknowledge my compassion and the fierceness of it as a good sign that I am fully human. It would be worse to not feel that way at all. Then I figure out whether I am in a position to do something positive to help or not. If not, which is often the case, I then invoke the serenity prayer – there are some things I just need to accept. I finish off with a recommitment to correct the injustices I am already working on and am committed to.

To me, the best antidote to feeling helpless is to do something constructive. I may not be able to solve all the problems of the world, but I can certainly fix some of them. As long as I am doing my part to do good, I trust that my fellow humans will do their part and together perhaps we can accomplish that which we can’t do alone.

In other words, I don’t suppress my compassion, I just redirect it to an area I can do something about. 

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