get rid of cable
Our words have boundless potential. One potential they have is to be a compassionate lifeline for those around us who are hurting, suffering in life, or who are having a temporary setback.
Some comedic commercials currently circulating are the DirecTV commercials. They take the simple act of having cable and linking a whole series of terrible events because of it. At the end, the announcer always tells the poor sap who is the victim that in order to prevent the final outcome, he must get rid of cable. One commercial goes as such:
When your cable company keeps you on hold, you get angry. When you get angry, you decide to blow off steam (man goes to play racquetball). When you blow off steam, accidents happen (man gets hit in the eye with a racquetball). When accidents happen, you get an eyepatch (man gets an eyepatch from injury). When you get an eyepatch, people think you're tough. When people think you're tough, they want to see how tough (man wearing eyepatch is running with a group of thugs chasing him). When people want to see how tough, you wake up in a roadside ditch. Don't wake up in a roadside ditch. Get rid of cable.
While comedy necessitates that the announcer blames the man's roadside ditch happening all on cable, he doesn't share any compassion. He merely tells him "don't wake up in a roadside ditch, get rid of cable". While the announcer is showing preventative measures to the rest of us if we have cable, this cold approach of blame and lack of compassion is sadly a response that many of us give to those around us when they are experiencing calamity. It is the equivalent of saying, "It's your own fault and if you had just done a, b, and c, you wouldn't be in your current roadside ditch." We all know this doesn't help but we sadly we might do it anyway. It takes the life situation of a person and makes it unbearable through criticism and trite words.
out of the ditch
Inevitably, we all have our proverbial ox in the ditch one time or another. For some people, this might happen more often than not. But what should our response be? Compassion. Not judgment, not stern words, compassion. It is very difficult to fall upon hard times, and even harder to vocalize it or have people see you going through them. When we render compassionate words, merciful words to those who are suffering, we demonstrate that we are not judging and we wish to see the situation improve. When we show compassion by offering our hearts through our words, we are standing in the ditch with an individual and attempting to help him or her out. If we merely gaze from above and holler, "Hey, how'd you get in there?" or "What were you thinking?", we stand in judgment and make the plight of that person so much worse. We become not a friend but a bully, taunting and ridiculing, dishonoring and denegrating.
As it says above in Orchot HaTzaddikim (The Ways of the Tzaddikim):
His words must be gentle to the poor one; he must console him in his adversity and in his ill fortune, and he must honor and uplift him.
The key here is not only to honor but to uplift. When people are suffering, they feel so lowly like they are at the bottom of the heap. The energy required to pick themselves up seems impossible to muster. A kind word, a gentle encouragement can mean the difference between life and death, and a healing balm even in the face of death.
all you can give
My husband recently found out that a co-worker, someone on his team, was diagnosed with an inoperable cancer. The man had lost quite a bit of weight in the past few months, but everyone just thought he was dieting. It was, however, his chemotherapy that was taking its toll. When the manager found out, he called my husband in who he knows is an active rabbi. He asked what the group's response should be and what to say at the next group meeting when the man would tell the group. My husband's response was to show the man compassion and care by expressing kind words of help—that if there was anything he needed that any one of them would be there. Any day, any time.
At the group meeting, the man shared his news with the group. The group, stunned and shocked from the news, slowly let him know they would be there for him. My husband had a chance to talk with him later on and shared more words of encouragement. Words at that moment were all he could give this man. This is sometimes our only gift to those suffering and hurting around us: words of love, words of healing, words of assurance. While to us a situation like this is so sad and there is no other outcome possible, merciful words can make all the difference and bring comfort.
But what about people who purposely put themselves in harm's way, always seeming to mess up their lives despite the good advice that people give them? They too deserve words of compassion, merciful words to help them. Compassion does not equal condoning someone's behavior, nor does it mean that we necessarily have to have a friendship. It means that in a person's time of need, we are there to help. Our Mashiach demonstrated this compassion as he stood in the various ditches of the lowly and raised them up.
Be a ladder in a ditch with someone who is struggling: use your words to uplift and honor those around you who are struggling and seek to be an agent of mercy.