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Practicing unconditional compassion

The problem with romanticizing people

After years of being immersed in this seemingly bottomless pool of awe-inspiring brilliance that is the University, I've developed a tendency to romanticize strangers whom I find fascinating.

I don't mean "romanticize" in the sense of falling in love — that would be too weird, even for me. But I do find myself either being entranced for hours on end after a good conversation or spending one too many days drafting up a response to a perfectly crafted email from a peer. I am consistently floored by the balance of talent and humility I've observed in the professors, grad students and fellow undergrads I’m surrounded by.

I’ve realized my tendency to overestimate people has become problematic.

In my blind admiration for all the demi-gods I've come across at the University, I tend to forget that average people, including myself, still exist and are also worthy of acknowledgement for their own strengths. In shoving certain people onto a pedestal, it's far too easy to disregard the ones who are still left scattered on the ground.

In my Buddhist meditation class, we've recently been discussing how to channel compassion into people or situations we might not necessarily understand or agree with. This cultivation of universal compassion, I feel, is more healthy than my current tendency to revere excellent students and ignore average ones.

There is no reason why an articulate professor or a student with an impressive resume deserve more of my recognition than a mother I see at the grocery store or a custodian mopping up a public restroom. In admiring solely those whose goals I can identify with, I leave no room to exercise compassion towards the ones who often go unrecognized for their efforts.

Why is it necessary to recognize each individual’s value? Because we are all human, and we all coexist in some way. In order to truly empathize with someone or pick up on a person’s characteristic nuances, I’ve found that a level-headed perception is essential.

I have to keep reminding myself that no person is as worthy of idealization as he seems — the students I herald as divine figures are undoubtedly imperfect. Likewise, those I’ve hitherto dismissed likely have so much more to offer than what I might initially think.

To be sure, I don't fault people for being driven by idealization of role models or goals. Whether someone is chasing their dream career path or itching to study abroad in an exotic land, romanticizing the end goal can supply a sense of strength. A little optimism can go a long way — my point is that positivity should be equally distributed among those I meet.

A person’s unique value may be difficult to discern upon first interaction. But if I refrain from needlessly romanticizing normal people, and employ the Buddhist practice of unconditional compassion, I think I’ll have an easier time appreciating each person for who he or she truly is.

Vega’s column runs biweekly Tuesdays. She can be reached at