Oh yeah, let’s get excited! We’re going to get … dispassionate. Cool. Calm. Composed. Collected. And it’s going to be AWESOME.
I’m not joking. I’m telling you – sometimes there’s nothing that feels more awesome and life-giving than when somebody is just … at ease. Passion and excitement certainly have their place. It would be a boring life without such feelings! But these feelings can also be thorny little things. Sometimes, showing a strong feeling is undesirable – especially when a situation is delicate somehow. There are many times when showing too much that you care is an unwelcome thing, and ends up actually feeling uncaring, ironically.
See, the thing about feelings is, they are involuntary. They are the things that we don’t have control over. Feelings are messy little creatures that take away the sense of control that we think we have. When we want to present ourselves to the world as having it together, the last thing we need is for our primal, instantaneous, spur-of-the-moment feelings to rear their ugly head. While, on the one hand, showing heartfelt emotion can be a beautiful gesture of intimacy, showing too much emotion, especially when it is being shown at the wrong time, can be equally disturbing.
For example: there have been times in my life – and I assume in your life, too – when I’ve needed to cry. Not howling and screaming crying … Just letting out some tears, you know? Sometimes, you just need to cry – and sometimes, the LAST thing you want is a bunch of people overreacting to your crying, making a big deal out of it, and so on. Sometimes, whether it’s crying or some other feeling, you just want to be able to have a feeling and own it, by yourself. You don’t want or need other people to take on your feelings and magnify them into something bigger. At those times, the best compassion that somebody can give you … is a sort of “dispassionate” compassion. One that recognizes how a person feels, without doing or saying too much more.
Recently, a good friend of mine was involved in a horrible car crash. The people that med-flighted her to a trauma hospital to get immediate emergency treatment were “awesome,” she told me, because they mixed just the right amount of compassion and understanding of her situation with a dispassionateness and sturdy resolution to not be fazed by their emotions. The balance was well-struck, helped along by the fact that these paramedics had already had a lot of experience with such dramatic situations. And I think that’s part of it, too: getting experience over time in situations of high drama is part of the maturing process … learning to live life from a less reactive place – this is a secret that many of the older folks that we know have learned (and which some also never do learn, unfortunately).
It’s this kind of cool, levelheaded state of mind that underpins a lot of the wisdom that we attribute to people who practice it. Positive people often help to advance a situation by consciously choosing at moments of high drama to act as a source of calm, dispassionate acknowledgement, as opposed to a mirror of everybody’s emotions. After all, when our emotions run high, what is the thing that we most often want most?
It’s to be listened to. To be heard. That is priority number one. Before and above everything else. And when somebody comes along whose number one priority on their end is listening and acknowledging us, then everything else around that has room to come into view and be properly dealt with. And as quiet and unassuming as such a task may be – simply listening and acknowledging – it is something that the instinctive part of a person’s mind remembers forever.
When you are dispassionate at the right moment, it shows that you value taking in other people’s feelings, as they are, over your reactions to these feelings they have. It’s a delicate balance to strike: too little emotion and you risk looking like you don’t care. But the more you show support to somebody in the ways that matter, as opposed to the ways that most look like they matter, the easier you will find it gets to strike this balance at different moments.