In one of her conversations with Brené Brown, Krista Tippett mentioned a quote that stuck with me
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
One of the reasons it stuck with me was that I had been struggling with myself. I had been working with a client and found myself in a situation in which it seemed that I was doing the main part of the work. I could not sense his efforts to participate although he did quite a lot of work.
The quote helped me shift my perspective and step out of a situation in which I felt stuck.
I felt stuck as it seemed that I was not succeeding, not finding an appropriate way to help and getting frustrated about it. Being reminded of our resemblance, of the fact that we both have some ongoing “fight” released the pressure.
I decided to dig a bit to situate the quote and found that it most probably originated from the work of Ian Maclaren. It appears in some of his work in slightly different versions. One of the earlier version used the word pitiful instead of kind.
Be pitiful, for every man is fighting a hard battle.
While pitiful might not be the appropriate word today, when Maclaren used it, it still had a different meaning.
Here is the appropriate definition from the Oxford English Dictionary:
pitiful, A. adj. 1. Full of or characterized by pity; compassionate, merciful, tender.
It seems that this definition of pitiful has died out meanwhile. I do like how it transforms my understanding of the quote as compassion and merciful are words which I feel to be stronger and more fitting than kind.
Using the quote, the situation has changed for me. Instead of only seeing the difficulty my client has to engage in some reflection and participation, I now can envision a very different fight. Whatever the fight might be he is enduring at the moment, it can be very different than the one I had been working on with him.
Based on this new point of view it was much easier to accept my inability to help. I still have to decide if I can’t help at all or if I was simply using an inadequate method for him.