If we are united by any one thing, it is suffering. Suffering is the most universal of human experiences. It touches us all, rich, poor, young, old, beautiful and plain. We are united by grief and cruelty and random injustice. We are united by our reactions to these things – anguish, guilt, rejection and disbelief. None of us expects anything bad to befall us, and we almost all manifest pure surprise when a loved one dies or a partner mistreats us. When we take time to listen to others, we hear first the stories of suffering. Aches and pains and deceptions are cast about and compared. It can be tiring to listen to such words. In situations such as these, it is important to remember where your personal boundaries lie. You can protect your energetic field from contamination by practising yoga, meditation t'ai chi or qi gong. You can project compassion through the eyes without offering a word. In fact, silent compassion, true listening, usually helps cease the flow while reassuring the speaker that they have been heard. Remember, most people feel that no one listens to them. This is the gateway to complaint. When we carry our burdens alone, they feel much heavier. When we share them, they weight less. By actively listening, without offering advice or, worse, belittling the complaint (“Oh, that's terrible, but think of how much worse it could be...”) we give space for grievances while neither accepting them as ours to resolve, nor rejecting them as insignificant.