Sunday, May 1, 2022

The Word & The World

How old were you when you learned the word compersion?  Oh this is wild, spell-check didn't even recognize it just now.  Back to the topic at hand, how old were you?  Are you learning it right now?  Let me tell you, I was thirty-eight years old before I'd ever even heard it, let alone learned what it was.  If this is your first time seeing it, without look it up, what do you think it means?  Some of you word nerds out there are probably able to put it together, but I would have never guessed.  

On her website, Dr. Marie Thouin defines it as "...wholehearted participation in the happiness of others. It is the sympathetic joy we feel for somebody else, even when their positive experience does not involve or benefit us directly. Thus, compersion can be thought of as the opposite of jealousy and possessiveness."  

The opposite of jealously, and possessiveness

I'll grant you, the term was invented in the 1990s so not all of us were likely to know of its existence, but even so, Snoop Dogg created an entire language in the late 90s / early 00s that even my 73 year old mother has spoken, so I don't think it's at all strange that I think it's a crime that this word isn't used more freely in daily language.  The fact that it has roots in the polyamory community might be part of why it hasn't caught on, stigma and all that (it's not like I know any of this for sure, I'm just spitballing here).  I would also assume it's likely very difficult for certain words or phrases to make the jump into popular lexicon if they're only used by fringe groups, or in academic bubbles, and not pop culture icons, but what an absolute loss for the rest of us.  

Am I the only one feeling robbed by the absence of this word in my vocabulary?

I have felt compersion outside of its romantic connotations easily hundreds of thousands of times, and have never had the proper term to apply to it.  And frankly, I'm pretty salty about it; living a large chunk of my lifetime without the proper word to adequately express what I'm feeling is incredibly frustrating.  Add to that the fact that you would use "compersion" in times of great pride and achievement in other people's lives when you're not supposed to be making the moment about yourself, which is annoyingly what happens when you don't have a succinct word to put to something, but rather a long-winded explanation.  How wonderful it would be to have the opportunity to say to someone after they've just told you amazing news about their life, "My heart is bursting with compersion, right now!" and for everyone to just know what that means— to know it's more than just happiness, to be able to tell them that you're experiencing something in that moment with them rather that just bearing witness:

A way to celebrate connection without invading.

In the past I always resorted to using the word "jealous," even though I knew it was incorrect.  I'd always footnote it as "happy-jealousy," not "dirty-jealousy," the dirty version being literal jealousy, of course.  Happy-jealousy, the way I used it, was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, or Jealousy Lite™ in a way that conveys a sentiment closer to: I couldn't be happier / more exited / prouder in this moment even if it were happening to me!  For me, saying "I'm so jealous!" wasn't a way of saying I only want it to happen to me and not you, it was always more like giving the situation my stamp of wholehearted agreement.  Like, whatever you're feeling right now x2 because I'm right there with ya!  Sure, moments like these make me think about my own wants, and desires as well, but not in a way that would deprive the target of all of the goodness they're experiencing.  True jealousy makes a person see you as a threat, has roots in resentment, and can lead to incredibly destructive, and obsessive behavior.  Absolutely none of those things is a compliment.  So, it's no wonder people feel awkward when someone uses the word to celebrate the milestones, or accomplishments of their loved ones.  It's weird, full stop.

Why on Earth would any of us wish to imply hostility during a beautiful moment of another person's life that they've so generously decided to share with us?

Maybe when experiencing true compersion, I'm not supposed to think so much about myself, and what I hope will happen to, and for me also, but I can't really help that, I'm wired to think of everyone when good things are happening to anyone.  I think good things should be happening to all of us all of the time, and without any person having to go without, or suffer.  If that makes me too self-centered to experience, or understand literal compersion, then I'm cool with that.  At this point, I'm just happy I finally have a word other than jealousy to put on a feeling I hadn't been able to define for nearly 40 years!

To the person reading this post right now, if this word is new to you, or even if you already knew it, but were just reminded of its existence today, I think it would be so awesome if you went out, and taught at least one other person about the definition of this word.  I think it's utter madness that we live in a society, or a time where jealousy is a familiar term to us before we're even old enough to start Kindergarten, but a name for sympathetic joy is learned (by some of us) at middle age.  How wonderful would it be for each of us to play a even a small part in bringing this word into daily use?  We could be like a Faberge Organics commercial, but better!