Compassion says, “I know how you feel.”
“Both friend and enemy reside within us. One lives by the rule of compassion, the other by the rule of hard knocks. Though potential influence of either extreme is inevitable, our actions bear witness to the one we embrace.” –T.F. Hodge
It’s simple really: What makes you feel more authentic and genuine; when you reach out to hug someone or when you wait for someone to hug you first? What if we dropped our defenses and just reached out first? What are we so afraid of?
The dictionary defines compassion as a feeling of deep sympathy and/or sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.
That definition sounds tragic but it is exactly what I did today. I met a former co-worker while at the grocery store and she told me about another former co-worker who is going through an awful health tragedy with her husband. I came home and immediately wrote out a card to her acknowledging her and her husband and express to her that she may never need my help in any physical way but that I am here to do whatever I can and to let her know that the one thing I could do for her right away was keep her and her family in my prayers.
Is it true that the only way for compassion to show itself is in the presence of a tragedy? What is a tragedy? Each of us has days when even the most mundane of bad news or events can be perceived as a tragedy. Perspective makes it so. What I find really comforting is that although we may not go through universal life experiences all at the same time, we do go through universal life experiences at some point in each of our lives. Knowing that someone out there has experienced the feelings I am going through right now is of great comfort but would be of even greater comfort if I found a way to connect with the person who would understand. By reaching out and asking for help or by reaching out and saying to someone, “I know how you feel”, connects us on a human level that no other species can do.
“The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.” –Mahatma Gandhi
I just have to say that bowing in prayer may be the simplest act of kindness when doing something physically is not possible. Kindness shows itself in so many ways. Do something, don’t do nothing at all.
I was walking out of an art supply store the other day and a mom was looking around the parking lot with her daughter in tow. She was confused because the bakery that they usually stop at on their Sunday errands was no longer there. Her voice sounded so distressed. It was really back ground noise to me at that moment because my mind was consumed with thoughts of how to make the next story time project really fun and exciting for my little library visitors.
As I was walking back to my car I replayed the distant voice in my head and let my ears hear what was going on around me. It just so happened that this mom and I passed each other in perfect synchrony and I was able to tell her exactly where the bakery had moved to. You really wouldn’t believe how incredibly thankful and relieved she was to know that not only did the bakery not go out of business but that she knew exactly where it had moved to once I asked her about her bearings.
Clearly there was no real life shattering suffering or sorrow going on regarding the woman and the bakery however, the distress in her voice and the way it touched my heart was enough to draw out empathy and compassion.
Children are really great at compassion. What comes to mind for you when you think about how children show compassion? Who is their go to receiver of compassion? There are 2 actually. The first is a favorite doll or stuffed toy and the second is animals. If you want to get to know the heart of a child and how to cultivate and mature their compassion watch them with these 2 receivers. In most cases it is a natural occurrence. Sharing with another child is not necessarily a natural occurrence but compassion is an inherent human quality and with proper nurturing, practice and encouragement it can root itself in the hearts of children and grow and mature as they mature. What a wonderful world that would be.
I KNOW HOW YOU FEEL
Each life experience we go through creates a connection to someone else; a sense of commonality, whether we know the person or not. We create connection through our flaws, mistakes, humanity, solidarity, and understanding. We are more able to see into the nature of love and suffering all at once simply because we live and learn and feel.
David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University and a co-author of “Out of Character: Surprising Truths about the Liar, Cheat, Sinner (and Saint) Lurking in All of Us” conducted a compassion study. The results were positive and uplifting. “The results of this study suggest that the compassion we feel for others is not solely a function of what befalls them; if our minds draw an association between a victim and ourselves, even a relatively trivial one, the compassion we feel for his or her suffering is amplified greatly. Simply learning to mentally re-categorize one another in terms of commonalities would generate greater empathy among all of us and foster social harmony in a fairly effortless way.”
Have you lost someone special? I was told a story about a man that lost his mom not long ago. He was very close to her and not having her in his life now, especially now that he has young children, has been a heartache that is at times too much to bear. Who among us cannot find commonality in a story like that? Even if you have not lost a mom or dad or that special someone you can put yourself in the shoes of the person that is grieving and wish to alleviate the pain or be a help through it.
And what of self-compassion?
I recently had a birthday and my family wanted very much to celebrate me while I did not feel like celebrating. My self-compassion was quite low at the time but I am the kind of person that doesn’t like to disappoint people, especially people I love so we put a plan together and made a night of it. We had a great time and it felt fantastic to smile and laugh and let go. I realized that it was wrong for me to treat my family with the same lack of enthusiasm as I was treating myself. I was glad for the awareness to put someone else’s needs above my own even though it was hard to feel inside of myself for myself. After all, isn’t compassion just another word for love, kindness, curiosity, empathy, tenderness and presence?
“Unfortunately we treat others as we treat ourselves. We should try being genuinely kind to ourselves and the rest will come naturally, like a Platinum Rule; far greater than a Golden Rule.” –Erica Goros
Simple gestures like when someone holds the door open for you or stops to pick up something you might have dropped or lets you cut in front of them on the express grocery line because you don’t have as many items to check out as they do. Those are small acts of compassion; knowing what it feels like and hoping to alleviate the negative. Just like going to the gym to maintain physical health and well-being compassion, when practiced regularly can be cultivated and maintained with amazing internal benefits. Sure, it may feel awkward at first but give it a month and see how you feel inside and what manifests itself on the outside. I predict you’ll be hooked and have a passion for compassion.
Suffering in any way is inevitable and I daresay necessary. Without suffering on any level we would not appreciate kindness, love, connectedness and compassion. The enemies of suffering are outnumbered and outmanned by compassion. Will you become an enemy of suffering or an ally?
Here is a short example of what I mean. What can you do to show compassion/kindness?
8 Thoughts to live by
Start where you find your own sense of compassion. You will never know how much deeper your compassion can grow until you start to plant your own seeds.
“Compassion is not a virtue, it is a commitment. It is not something we have or don’t have, it is something we choose to practice.” –Dr. Brene` Brown
Open your heart. A closed heart can never grow and an open heart can never close.
“I could really use someone else’s smile today.” –Richelle Goodrich
Once you realize that other people matter you have created compassion.
“The solution to nearly every problem in the world comes down to greater awareness, compassion, and empathy.” – Bryant McGill
I’m here for you.
“Three of the ten principles governing the City of Joy are:
-Tell the truth
– Stop waiting to be rescued
– Give away what you want the most.” – Eve Ensler, In the Body of the World: A Memoir
Call to Action
How can you start to grow your compassion?
When in your life have you had a passion for compassion?
What experiences have you had that let you know compassion was alive and well?
Where do you witness compassion most?
Who hugs first? Where does the hug start from, the heart or the head?
If you would like to explore more about personal growth, building character strengths, or discovering what more you have inside of you please call for a free discovery session in my Art of YOU coaching program. You can reach me by calling 203-560-3061 or send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.