Embracing Compassion against Mortality April 2, 2014 12 Comments Share tweet Op Ed By: Op Ed “So, are you happy at Carnegie?” “Ajit, that’s an irrelevant question.” “How so?” “My happiness depends on the happiness of those around me. What you should be asking is, ‘Rohan, are you making everyone around you happy? And are you doing so with compassion in your heart?’ “ My brother committed suicide four years ago while attending Carnegie Mellon University. He is my best friend; I love him more than anything else. And I know he loves me back. That love has not made my last four years unproblematic. Since August 27, 2009, my life has been a dance with the devil. Losing a sibling to suicide is cruel; I can unequivocally say it should never happen. Ever. Every step forward is a hurdle, and for every hurdle overcome, a far higher one seems to coalesce out of thin air. Acknowledging that his death had had the power to change me and had indeed changed me, for instance, opened a troubling door, one that made me consider whether I had changed for the worse because of it. To this day, this fear troubles my soul. I have not learned much from my experience thus far; in fact, I would say my working model for life is far more fragile now than it was on August 26, 2009. To say I am troubled by death is an understatement; I am petrified of it. When I wake up to the monotonous hymn of my phone alarm, I look out the window, and wonder Is this the day for me? As I bike to class, I pray it isn’t. For if something happened to me, would those close to me be okay? I think of what Rohan told me: “Are you making everyone around you happy?” My parents have brilliantly come to terms with my brother’s passing; could they do the same if I too was taken? Would my friends and family be able to cope with another sighting of the Grim Reaper? I don’t like these questions; they frighten me. Nevertheless, to dwell over them is not my choice to make; they plague me. My belief that I don’t wish to die is certainly important; and yet it is the fact that I have little to no control over mortality (mine and others’) that has become my paramount concern. With that said, experience has taught me one key principle during my struggle. Interestingly, this truth is not just old and well known; it might even seem antiquated. Considering my new perspective on the effects that death has on the world it leaves behind, I have learned that happiness should depend on the happiness of those around you, as Buddha and all other great philosophers have simultaneously preached for eons. It is easy to misinterpret this statement, as I did initially. But acknowledging the importance of others isn’t just a casual nod to pain, a flippant #firstworldproblems. Compassion is the key that unlocks beauty in the human experience. Individualism is important. It is one of the major drivers of innovation. But my dance with the devil has taught me that happiness cannot be found within one’s own bubble. And in this regard, our system for dealing with each other has to change. Socialization can’t be dependent on competition. Why forge relationships on tension when they can depend on love instead? It seems like a no-brainer. Yet, it isn’t. Most of us hold onto a preconceived notion of what being social is, a dogma that propagates the “grass is always greener” mentality. We are taught to believe that life must have winners and losers, that we are “in it to win it,” and that there is nothing worth living for but ourselves. But what happens when the grass turns brown? In my case, August 27 was when the grass turned not brown but black. We think of emotional dependence as vulnerability, but we all should treat ourselves as vulnerable because we are vulnerable. Weakness allows others to see us for who we are, while blithely proclaiming #strength only festers the sore that grows in our hearts. Our confidence in our own individuality is not just unproductive. It is counterproductive. This means that the essential questions should be: Are you doing your best at making those around you happy? Are you present for your friends in need? And are you being compassionate even to those who you may not know? We may not all accomplish these goals at all times, and I certainly don’t; nonetheless, orienting ourselves towards them is the avenue to filling hearts with joy. I love my brother. I am not ashamed to tell his story, for his wisdom will affect me for the rest of my life. Though his death once turned my core cold, my soul is beginning to thaw. I now recognize that showing compassion for all is vital. Dancing with the devil is natural. But letting the dance spark your own emotional hubris is not. My happiness depends on the happiness of others. What I should be asking you is: “Are you making everyone around you happy? And are you doing so with compassion in your heart?” Contact Ajit Vakharia at firstname.lastname@example.org. 2014-04-02 Op Ed April 2, 2014 12 Comments Share tweet Subscribe Click here to subscribe to our daily newsletter of top headlines.