On Hakas, Heartbreak & Having Compassion For a Wounded World

This week I’ve been captivated by the Haka dances of mourners in New Zealand.

The Haka is a traditional, ceremonial dance in Māori culture that’s done to prepare for battle, to celebrate a special occasion, and to mourn a loss. (Click here to watch one.)

As I’ve watched the Haka dances, I’ve been struck by the force, the anger, the anguish seen on the mourners’ faces and felt in the insistent stamping of their feet.

It’s exquisite. It’s heartbreaking. It’s such a powerful vehicle for the grief and rage arising from the loss of 50 innocent lives inside a mosque last week.

This is not the way the world should be.

I love these Haka dances, because emotions aren’t swallowed or tamed or minimized. Emotions are clearly, loudly, assertively, vigorously expressed with a power greater than words can say.

One of the ways I’ve tried to honor the victims and stand in solidarity with their families and the Muslim community is to watch the videos of every Haka that’s been performed this week. To witness every grief-stricken wail, every aggrieved fist, every thundering stomp, every voice quaking and quivering with heartbreaking pain.

I weep every time.

I get angry every time at the injustice, the unfairness, the senselessness of the innocent lives taken last week. And every time I experience that anger and grief, I resolve to do everything I can do so this doesn’t happen again. To fill the world with kindness, understanding, empathy, peace, unity, cooperation, respectful dialogue and compassion.


That word often conjures warm, soft, tender, dopamine-infused images.

But compassion is actually much stronger than that. The word comes from the Latin word pati, which means to suffer. And co means with. So compassion literally means, “To suffer with.”

This week I’m reminded that having true compassion in the world means being willing to engage with the anger, the wailing, the mourning, the heartache, the outrage of those who have been deeply wounded by evil actions.

Because only when we feel the depths of these emotions can we find the strength and determination we need to not only grieve at the way the world is, but do something to make the world as it was always meant to be.