Expressing Compassion to Those That Are Different Than You

My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” ~ Dalai Lama

Last month, David Archuleta shared a heartfelt, vulnerable post on social media about his sexuality. It caught the attention of thousands of followers and sparked many conversations online and in-person. I was struck by the many comments on his post–they were overwhelmingly supportive, kind, and loving. His sincere and courageous post further softened my heart and I reflected on how I can express more compassion to those who are different than I. From these reflections, came a blog post about how showing compassion can often lead to new or deeper friendships. Enjoy! 

Friendship Day is on August 1st. The literal definition of friendship is a state of mutual trust and support between allies. The comments on David Archuleta’s post were a direct exemplification of trust and support between allies. Although many of his Instagram followers may be strangers to him, his vulnerable, raw post was met with love, kindness, acceptance and even praise for speaking his truth. Many of his followers are Christians who may not practice homosexuality; yet, the comment section is full of support for David. This is the perfect example of supporting and being compassionate to someone who may be different from us. Our compassion need not be limited to the LGBTQ community; it can be shared with anyone whose struggle we may not fully understand, beit with their sexuality, race, faith, marital status, etc. What specifically can we do to be a friend and ally to those who are different from us?

  1. Listen. Generous listening is a gateway to compassion and a tool for healing. Most of us do not truly listen; we anticipate what is coming next, we plan our response, we interrupt, try to fix, or refute what the other person is saying, etc. If we could just stop what we are doing and really truly listen–as in letting the person speaking finish their thoughts–we would be well on our way to being compassionate friends and allies. The next time we are in a situation where someone who thinks/feels/lives differently than us is speaking, let’s listen. Let’s listen to all of what they have to say. This lets them know what they have to say is important to us. 
  2. Ask Questions. When we are speaking with someone we know we disagree with, a great way to find common ground is to ask open-ended questions. For example, if we were in a conversation with David Archuleta, we could ask questions like, “How can I support you after your vulnerable post?” or, “What do you wish people understood about you?” After we listen to our friends say whatever they want or need to say (step one), we can then ask questions to further understand them. We have all been in a situation where someone asked us a question (or questions) and we just felt seen; we felt like our opinion was valued. We can be a friend and an ally to those who are different from us by showing interest in them and their opinions. Plus, when we ask questions and get to know people better, we are more likely to find commonalities and common ground that unifies rather than divides us because of our differences. 
  3. Reserve Judgment. In 2019, I wrote a blog post centered on one of Brene Brown’s ideas; her suggestion is simply that everyone is trying their best with their present circumstances and that we should not be critical. The most generous way to express compassion for those who are different from us is to reserve judgement and to trust that they are doing their best.
  4. Be Present. Try being fully present with everyone you encounter. Avoid looking at your phone, multitasking, glancing at the TV behind your lunch date, or paying attention to anyone other than the one you are with. Make eye contact. Notice body language. See if you can really feel what the other might be feeling beneath the words. When you are truly present, your presence conveys compassion.

Whether those around us are experiencing ongoing racism, or struggling with mental health or their faith, we can all extend more compassion to those around us. Though we may not fully understand their choices, we can listen, we can ask questions, we can reserve judgement, and we can be present with them in their struggle. I often think about the words from a wise woman, Marjorie Hinckley, who said, “Be kind; everyone is fighting a battle.” Some struggles are imperceptible; we may never fully know what others are going through. When in doubt of how to respond, my motto is always show up and be kind and compassionate

Alongside David Archuleta, I encourage each of us to make room to be more understanding and compassionate to those who are different from us. It may take some practice to listen, ask questions, reserve judgement and be present for others, but these four actions will enable us to be better friends with those who are misrepresented or misunderstood. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you are looking for an ally. I am here for you!

Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.


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Melissa Cluff, MS, LMFT, CSAT

Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.