Learning Compassion

Learning Compassion

I’ve challenged myself to learn to have more compassion. I admit it has been an interesting summer with unexpected, but much appreciated, personal growth. I was starting to feel that I was mastering compassion, until today.

This afternoon as I was preparing to make soup from a new recipe, I responded to the direction to “mince the vegetables in a food processor” with a mental, “Why would they do that?”

I didn’t ask this question seeking new understanding of cooking theory or techniques.  In reality it wasn’t even a question – but rather something I said instead of saying, “I think their direction is wrong and I’m going to cut these vegetables with my knife.”

As I continued making the soup, I realized I wasn’t paying attention to the directions anymore.  I was skimming the ingredients, but ignored the authors method of preparation. I hadn’t simply chosen a method of vegetable cutting, I had judged the recipe author to be irrelevant.

In my defense, I thought I had good reason to think the directions were wrong – actually absurd.  Why would I bother getting out a food processor for a carrot, a stalk of celery and some shallots? Honestly, I could get it done just as fast with my knife and have less clean-up – and I hate having a lot of clean-up.

But I caught myself, and decided if I asked the question, I would treat it like a question.  “Why would they do that?”  To my surprise, I came up with some really great answers that not only defended the author’s cooking knowledge, but also demonstrated superior parenting skills.

  • Maybe this author has a picky eater in the family, and minced veggies can hide in soup better.
  • Maybe this author comes home and has to prepare dinner quickly, so leaving dirty food processor parts to soak and clean after dinner saves time before dinner.
  • Maybe this author prefers the texture of soup with smaller vegetable pieces.
  • Maybe this author has children constantly wrapped around his/her legs and feels the food processor is a safer mincing method than using a large knife when unpredictable preschoolers are “helping.”

You see, if I had just actually asked the question, treating the author with compassion instead of instant judgement, I might have decided to try mechanical chopping of vegetables for this soup. I might have really liked it, and it might not have taken any more time than using a knife.  But it might not.  The moral is not that I missed out on a great new technique because I was judgmental, the moral is that I pretended it wasn’t judgmental.  I pretended my way would always be better because it makes the most sense given the conditions I have for cooking – if I hadn’t I might have responded like this, “Oh, that way won’t work for me right now so I’ll just use my knife.”

Big difference?

It would be to the recipe author.

And it is to women when we talk to them about pregnancy and birth. Attitudes of judgement about decisions made, or not made, are shared in your choice of language and the way you make your comments. Attitudes of judgement cause us to discount a woman having anything valuable to add to the conversation – and it changes the way we interact with the women we are judging.

There are many decisions women and families make as they try to conceive, try to maintain their health in pregnancy, try to navigate labor safely for mother and baby, and try to learn how to parent their newborn. I will not agree with every choice made by every family. I must learn how to treat other women with compassion, accepting their knowledge and experience may lead to different decisions without deciding they have no value.


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Jennifer Vanderlaan CNM MPH is the author of the BirthingNaturally.net website. She has been working with expectant families since 2000, training doulas and childbirth educators, and midwives. She has worked with midwives in Central America and Sub-Saharan Africa. Her interest in public health grew in 2010, and she is now a PhD student in a nursing program learning to become a producer of knowledge.

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