I had left this post rather late for a myriad of reasons. And so when I sat down to begin, my initial thought was ‘how about something quick’ then swiftly followed by ‘it won’t do this post justice’. It would seem I am not one who take shortcuts. So, what to write about compassion – which worldview shall I extend.
Compassion is defined in Dictionary.com as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering”. By its very definition, compassion engages the HEART and it compels ACTION.
Compassion is not empathy nor altruism. You see, empathy does not require action. I can sit with someone in their grief, knowing and understanding without the impetus to act. Whereas altruism’s reference point is the self, such as the act of selflessness though it benefits another. Unlike them, compassion is about the other, pure and simple. It requires us to step into the shoes of another, to be fully present in their space, to feel their pain and suffering AND to take action to reduce or eliminate that suffering.
It is comparatively easy to feel compassion for physical suffering that are apparent. We see a man who has lost his legs, we feel for them, we contribute how and what we can.
What of those with psychological illnesses – what of the well-dressed woman on the bus having a loud conversation with herself? Do you avoid her? Do you look at her ‘oddly’ with a frown? Or do you take a seat beside her because others won’t?
What of the fit-looking man, who stutters? Do you look away in embarassment? Do you speak to him in a tone and at a pace that condescends? Do you assume because he can’t speak fluidly that he won’t understand? Or do you still see the man who is intelligent and wishing to express his views? Will you smile and encourage?
Where is our compassion then? How easy it is for you and I to only see suffering from our worldview, our own experience and understanding of pain and suffering. To be compassionate, we walk in another’s shoes, we see their pain and suffering from their lens. Do we do that? I know I don’t, not always. I can think, analyse and rationalise, so I delude myself that what I believe and perceive must be true.
Have you ever been told that you are exaggerating, that your finger couldn’t possible hurt because what has happened couldn’t possibly hurt? He who proceeds to tell you that it had happened to him and it didn’t hurt him, so it couldn’t hurt you. Compassion requires us to accept another in their pain and suffering, notwithstanding its severity or whether it is temporal. Until then, our action would likely be inappropriate, unsuitable and condescending.
Compassionate action lifts another up, it encourages and supports, it enables. It does not rescue, it does not excuse, it does not correct, it does not seek to create a dependency. The everyday ‘little’ acts of compassion counts, and it only takes a pebble to create a ripple.
According to Buddhist tradition, we are all born with the seed of compassion within us. To nurture and grow this seed, I suspect we must practice. Neuroplasticity suggests as we keep doing something in repetition, it becomes a habit; our brain create ‘new’ neural pathways. And so it is with compassion. Compassion is a trainable skill.
Compassion can become our default way of being. Imagine that!
So how about we practice, you and I… 🙂 practice being compassionate every moment of our lives, one moment at a time.
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