Now more than ever, I’m understanding the importance of compassion.
Now more than ever, I’m recognizing those people who lack it.
First, let’s get the dictionary definition out of the way. It is “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.”
Next, I’ll add some personal context. Thankfully, I never lost my home to a California wildfire, but I have compassion for those who have. Thankfully, I’ve never lost a child, but I have compassion for the families I work with at Adam’s Place. Thankfully, I’ve never been anywhere near a hurricane, but I have compassion for those who have lost everything to a force of nature. Thankfully, my parents paid for my college education, but I have compassion for people who are saddled with gigantic student loans.
Some may think I’ve lived a privileged life. Even so, I don’t think privilege of any sort excuses you from feeling compassion. In fact, I think the privileges I’ve enjoyed demand that I have greater compassion for those whose lives have been different than mine.
I can list a dozen more examples of how I have “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” And, unfortunately, I can list dozens of examples of the various public displays of utter lack of compassion. It fills me with horror and despair when I am witness to the overt lack of compassion, whether it’s by a parent who chastises the toddler who dropped his ice cream cone, or by the President of the United States throwing rolls of paper towels to Hurricane Maria survivors in Puerto Rico.
We are not born with compassion. We’re taught it and we learn by example. If you believe you were absent the day compassion was handed out to others, it’s not too late to learn. I can help you out with this in four simple steps:
(1) Ask people how they are;
(2) Figure out what you have in common, even if it’s simply the fact that you’re both human, or you both live in the same state;
(3) Put yourself in that person’s shoes or pretend that person is actually your parent, child, or best friend; and
(4) Remember to treat yourself in the same way as you’re learning how to treat others.
So, why is it important to be compassionate? Well, there are two gigantic reasons why it’s important.
The first reason is that your compassion will benefit others. When you notice and, more importantly, acknowledge the pain, challenge, or struggle of another person, you are allowing that person to feel seen, heard, and validated. We all want that. We all need that.
The second reason is equally significant — your compassion towards others will benefit you. Once we start the journey toward understanding, we have the potential to get rid of our own anger and resentment.
Please comment to toot your own horn about an act of compassion you’ve displayed or experienced. Now is a good time to share that story.
If only compassion and empathy would spread rampant like a virus! Our world would certainly be a MUCH better place!
My youngest act of compassion that I recall was actually when I was about 8 years old, give or take. Grandma Gussy and I would walk to her bank every week, which (I think) was on Coldwater Canyon, between Victory and Vanowen, in the San Fernando Valley. There was always a disheveled man in a wheelchair in front of the bank. He had a Band-Aid box taped to the front of his wheelchair, for collecting donations. At the time, I earned 2 quarters a week by helping with house chores. I put one of my quarters into his Band-Aid box every week and I recall the swelling feeling that I got in my chest, because it made me feel so good.
What a wonderful story, Shari! Thank you so much for taking the time to share it with me.
Whenever I come across a homeless person, I usually give them money. One time there was a woman, sitting outside a grocery store with her 2 young children with a sign, begging for money for food. I went back in the store and bought her a roasted chicken. Now that I think of it, I’ve done things like that quite a few times. Given a warm cider to a homeless guy sitting on the ground outside of Starbucks on a winter’s morning…It’s because when I was a young mother, my children and I, often, didn’t have much. I am grateful for my life as it is now, but I remember how it was. I feel badly when I see people in that same hard place.
Brenda, there’s no doubt you are a compassionate person! Thank you for sharing some of your experiences.