Compassion is the Answer - Justin Lioi, LCSW - Brooklyn, NY

I recently listened to one of the most freeing podcasts I’ve ever heard. It’s called ‘Man Enough’ and it’s hosted by Justin Baldoni, Liz Plank, & Jamey Heath. This particular episode featured an interview with Alok Vaid-Menon. A gender non-conforming writer, performer, and public speaker. They’ll be a link to it below.

There were a number of incredible things said including how compassion can, and often needs to, come before understanding. They spoke about the idea of ‘multiple truths’ which has been a saving grace for me for a few years now, and the idea that goes beyond most of masculine socialization in this country: that our superpower may be our ability to be interdependent.

Vaid-Menon is also the author of Beyond the Gender Binary–a book you can read in one sitting and you can get here. It’s part personal story, part history lesson, and all essential reading (even Billy Porter said on the back cover that he learned something from it, so the rest of us better get moving!)

Compassion Comes Before Understanding

You know when something seems so clarifying because it’s a concept you’ve always had, but never put into words? That’s what happened to me when Vaid-Menon said that we don’t have to wait to understand something or someone before we can offer compassion, before we can feel compassion. In fact, we are probably causing harm if we don’t.

Why did that seem so out there at first? Well, as someone who lives in their head and wants to figure everything out before he does anything, this allows me to let all of that go. When faced with a new concept, with something beyond my normal scope, with a different idea–I can give myself permission to enter into it first by feeling compassion.

Full stop. I don’t need to ask someone else to explain themself to me. I don’t have to better research your motives before I accept you and how you choose to be in the world–or don’t choose to just be who you are.

I’ve spent so much wasted time saying I want to understand. And when I see others struggling with issues of prejudice, my first step is to just explain it better. Help them understand.

While the rest of us–and certainly those of us like myself who had several privileges handed to me when I was born–have the time and luxury to seek to understand while my life goes on pretty steadily and unchanged, other people fear when they walk out their door that they’ll be shamed, made fun of, or physically hurt. Just for being themselves. While I get to think–well, I’m still trying to understand why they are as they are. Once I understand, then I can help others understand.

Yeah, it sounds that paternalistic in my head too.

I can learn to understand on my own time. It’s not fair or ok to simply ask other people to explain themselves in order for me to have compassion for them.

There Are Multiple Truths

Life isn’t a philosophy course that’s diving deep into the nature of truth. In day to day interactions, when lives are at stake, there’s not much time for that. Explore the nature of truth on my own time. When in relationship with someone else it’s important for us both to really dive into what our life experiences have been so we can really know what we’re disagreeing about. Once we can do that we can divvy up what are facts and what are perceptions, but neither one of us can ever deny the truth of each other’s lived experiences.

If our interactions with someone else are based on an intellectual discussion of semantics and the nature of objective things we have very likely strayed far away from a relational discussion. That’s a discussion informed by emotion and, you guessed it, includes all of our life experiences–shared experiences and otherwise.

And i love a good intellectual debate. But it’s way too often that a heady discussion of ideas can allow us to forget that we’re talking about other people’s lives.

I first learned about the idea of multiple truths/lived experiences through my mentor Candida Brooks-Harrison and it was awesome to hear similar ideas from Vaid-Menon.

Our Superpower is Interdependence

Well, this is just the 180 degree turn I need to be reminded of every day. Like throwing a pitch and having it batted right back at me. For all the desire and pride when I do something on my own–or at least feel I did something fully on my own–it is a damning trap to think that’s the whole ball game.

Because keeping on doing it on my own means I have to keep on doing it on my own. And that inevitably leads to shame because I can’t.

None of us can.

I work with guys across the age spectrum and even if you successfully figure things out all by yourself for decades at some point you realize that you’ve just put such an enormous amount of pressure on yourself and it hits you. And it hurts. And it’s so damn unnecessary.

So, learning early on that interdependence is our superpower maybe the most important take away. But listen to the whole podcast below!


We all have our own journeys. It’s often challenging and filled with unknowns day after day after day. The uncertainty is a given. But leaning into the above ideas gives us so much more freedom to figure out the challenging stuff.

Want to talk more about anything above? Or is something else getting in the way of living the life you want? Contact me and we can set up a free phone consultation to talk about next steps.

Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert based in Brooklyn, NY (and online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been working in family and men’s counseling for over 10 years. Justin writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity and can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion.