Pain is Tuition for Compassion, Fear is Tuition for Bravery
A Sufi adage tells us, “Pain is the tuition for compassion.” Until you’ve experienced deep pain yourself, you are incapable of the compassion that calls forth the best parts of human beings and allows us to connect heart to heart, deep below the surface of ordinary interactions.
To appreciate what a writer’s tuition is, let me illustrate how for our dog Kelda, “Fear is the tuition for bravery.”
Dogs, like people, are born with different temperaments including how they react to surprising stimuli. Kelda was born with a tendency to startle easily. New people, a plastic bag blowing in the breeze, a garbage can that had been moved in the park were all very scary when Kelda was a puppy. Both Claudia and I worked with Kelda to help her be more calm and confident.
We had help from some excellent trainers. Someone in one of our classes once commented on what a good job we were doing with “a fearful dog.” Months of training Kelda had trained me, too, and my immediate response was “Kelda’s not a fearful dog – she’s a dog that has learned how to be brave.”
Compared to other dogs, Kelda has had a lot more opportunities to “check it out,” that is, to investigate, move in and move away, sniff and explore scary stuff with one of her people right there to reward her bravery. I truly see these as opportunities to learn how to be brave. Kelda has learned to encounter the strange with confidence.
For writers, “Frustration and rejection are the tuition for persistence.” If we want to reach our writing goals, we have to persist in taking action. We have to keep showing up and taking risks.
Every successful writer is or was a persistent writer. I bet that every writer you admire went through some character-building life experiences that s/he would’ve rather avoided, at least in the moment, even if s/he later realized the experience was valuable.
Having someone reject a query letter or manuscript, entering and not winning a contest, applying for and not getting a grant, struggling with a piece that just won’t come together, running into dead ends during our research, all these frustrations and rejections are exactly what we need to learn how to persist. These challenges teach us how to stand firm in our identity as writers. How else would we realize that we can keep on keeping on no matter what?
As exhilarating and rewarding as it is to have someone applaud our work, offer to publish and pay for it, give us a grant or make us a contest finalist, those experiences don’t challenge us to learn and develop as writers and as human beings.
Are you paying your persistence tuition? Or are you letting resistance keep you from “attending the class?” Do you have a person to acknowledge your persistence and remind you why you write?
Let fear and frustration guide you, not stop you. As we say to Kelda, “check it out.”