Compassion Must Sustain Our Path

By: Dr. Makini King, Interim Vice-Chancellor and Director of the Division of Diversity and Inclusion

There are not yet adequate words to describe all that we have experienced this last year. We sustained a global pandemic, a racial justice reckoning and political polarization within a matter of months. However, this may be one of the rare instances where we developed a more intimate understanding of our emotional journey compared to the physical one. This is a watershed moment. We are typically emotion averse, especially towards those unpleasant ones, and we play all sorts of tricks on ourselves to avoid them. But this past year we leaned into them, we talked about our emotions – especially the unpleasant ones, and we did so as much publicly as we did privately. Even as the world seemed to be crumbling around us in paradoxically new and very familiar ways, there was something about the frequency and severity of last year’s events that led to a very different human response.  Many of us allowed ourselves to learn from our emotional experiences. Consequently, we exhibited incredible compassion for each other; we started to pay attention, we began to try and understand one another in ways that we had not seen before. We didn’t always get it right, there were lots of fits and starts. In a society where we aren’t exactly used to confronting unpleasantries in order to learn from them, or placing kindness above niceness, it’s logical that we might encounter hiccups, but the determination to enact compassion despite hardship was steady.

As we begin to pull ourselves out of the last vestiges of 2020, it might seem reasonable to try and forget every part of it, but that would be a mistake. Though the realities were often grim and the lessons were hard, they were lessons nonetheless. Many of those lessons, if we attend to them, will guide us into a better and brighter future. It does not have to take a worldwide and catastrophic pandemic and a racial reckoning (among many other things) to teach us compassion. We can, in fact, choose that every day from now on.

The same kindness and compassion that carried us through last year; that led many of us to consider the experiences of other people and inspired us to make personal sacrifices in exchange for the care of others, is the very same kindness and compassion that will sustain us today if we choose. We can do this work in our own circles, in our own families, and here in our UMKC community. Last year we clearly exhibited our ability to engage skills we didn’t even know we had; making decisions we didn’t know we could and being flexible in ways we had never been before. We can use the momentum to push us deeper into emotional freedom so that we can continue to be compassionate, pay attention and seek understanding of others in ways that we have never done before.