In times of fear, ignorance, and personal and political divide, it is more important than ever to possess a quality that is oftentimes overlooked:
A few weeks ago, I was scrolling down my Facebook feed when I came across something the Dalai Lama posted.
“World peace can only be based on inner peace. If we ask what destroys our inner peace, it’s not weapons and external threats, but our own inner flaws like anger. This is one of the reasons why love and compassion are important because they strengthen us. This is a source of hope.”
Love and, most importantly, compassion really grabbed my attention in this beautifully worded statement. Personally, I didn’t have a clear definition of what compassion was, although I had some sort of concept of it. It was never a quality that my teachers really pushed me or my classmates to practice. Rather, common phrases I would hear were to “respect your classmates and teacher,” “be quiet when seated,” and “listen when others speak.” These were the main qualities taught to a developing mind, and as a result, compassion was never really brought up. It didn’t mean I grew up as a soulless, bratty, mean child, though (most of the time).
What exactly is compassion?
Before I continue further into my blog post, it’s important that I discuss what compassion is. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, compassion is “the feeling or emotion, when a person is moved by the suffering or distress of another, and by the desire to relieve it.” Seems similar to sympathy and empathy, doesn’t it?
A good website that clears up the differences between the three terms using simple terms is Operation Meditation. According to their website, sympathy is “feeling sorry for another’s hurt,” empathy is “walking in another’s shoes,” and compassion is “love in action.” Their interpretation of the three terms is legitimate—specifically with their definition of compassion, this “love in action” relates back to the OED’s definition in which there is a “desire to relieve” the other’s sufferings.
Through these perspectives, compassion can be seen as: deciding to make soup for your friend who is sick because you want them to get better; donating food to an animal shelter; donating to charities that are concerned with human rights, the environment, etc.; washing the dishes for your mom who you feel is stressed out. These actions must be a genuine concern, not because you may have some other selfish motives that make you do the action in the first place.
Now that the definition of compassion is explained a little bit more, I think it is pertinent to understand that compassion is something that can be developed further. I’m an optimist when it comes to human nature, so I believe we all have some natural instinct for compassion. However, this natural instinct can be put in the back of our values and beliefs from a lack of mindfulness. So in a sense, it is a skill, and not something you either have or don’t.
How do we strengthen our compassion?
There are many ways to strengthen it—remember, compassion is a skill that can be learned!
1) Instead of focusing on differences between you and other, people focus on commonalities. The best way into gaining empathy, and subsequently, compassion is to understand that we all share commonalities as humans.
2) Become more observant to how people act around you. Focusing on people’s nonverbal cues rather than their verbal cues can allow you to become much more sensitive and understanding of body language.
3) Listen, and listen well. It’s so easy to get caught up in our own daily life that we may not always spend time really listening to what others have to say. Listening deeply does not mean literally being able to hear what someone is telling you, but it requires processing of what they are trying to tell you and thinking about how and why they are saying the things they are saying.
4) Role reversal: Being able to imagine yourself in someone’s unfortunate situation will lead you to ask yourself, “If I were this person, how would I want other to treat me? What would I need at that moment?” It’s a great way to be able to practice compassion.
Ultimately, practicing compassion is important because it makes our lives better, whether you want to believe it or not. We all have one life here on this earth – why not spend it showing a trait that connects us all together?