Happy 2016 everyone! As people are checking off their list of resolutions, I’ve been contemplating compassion. I got the idea to write this article because of a podcast I’ve recently stumbled upon called “Risk!”. Here people are encouraged to share their personal stories where there is some risk involved in telling it. These stories aren’t squeaky clean like something you’d hear on “This American Life” or even “Moth“. Risk! does not offer a “clean” version of their podcast on their site. They are uncensored and very raw.
This particular storyteller was sharing his story for the first time. Honestly, it was very painful to listen to. Here was a young man, probably in his mid twenties, telling the story of the events leading up to his attempt at suicide and the pain that it caused his family and will affect the rest of his life. At first I sort of separated myself emotionally from the story, mostly because of my own experience of suicide in my community. However I was moved by his turnaround at the very end. He spoke of being in the hospital after swallowing over 100 pills, how he was told his liver was failing, and that he was going to die. He mentioned his father driving 8 hours to see him for 15 minutes before he passed so he could make it back to work. It hit him that he was fading into nothingness. There he was, literally dying, and witnessing the coming and going of family members and friends who loved him and cared for his well being, even his own father and mother who created him and invested in him. He cried out to God desperately, asked for forgiveness for his transgressions, not for himself but for those who would have mourned him. Ultimately he ended up miraculously surviving the ordeal . He got a second chance at life. He wanted to share his story so that if there were others that were struggling from within as he was, it would help them seek help and reach out to their loved ones rather than going at it alone. His story, I thought, was an intriguing way to look at compassion.
Compassion literally translates “to suffer together”. Even more than empathy and altruism, compassion involves not only sharing emotions, it includes an urge or call to action to help others.
I believe compassion is a way to not only care for those around us but a way to give the same care to ourselves. It’s a gift that gets passed on and fulfills the giver when others receive it and do the same.
Compassion makes us better…
- Better neighbours
- Better co-workers
- Better friends
- Better partners for our significant others
- Better parents
Humans are a sympathetic species and it is how we survive and have thrived for thousands of years. In another podcast I was listening to, (I am a huge fan of podcasts) NPR’s “The Hidden Brain” was doing a segment on compassion that featured a class on Coursera, an online education platform, taught by Scott Plous, a professor of Psychology at Wesleyan University. It turns out that 250, 000 students from around the world signed up for the course. One of their assignments was “The Day of Compassion” where students were asked to spend an entire day being deliberately kind and compassionate to other people. Students reported that doing this was very transformative, that they felt they were changing the world on some level, though small. Showing compassion to others, even people we don’t know, can make a huge impact on us.
Compassion is Contagious
The norm of reciprocity, or paying it forward, is a real thing. For instance, if you open yourself up to others, they are very likely to do the same. Small gestures from others can lift you up or make your day, and you yourself are inspired to do the same for another.
Compassion is very beneficial for not only those around us but for our own physical and mental health.
- Showing consideration toward others can reduce heart disease by slowing down our heart rate.
- Caring for others can reduce vindictive behaviors.
- Improve our relationships with friends, co-workers, spouses, and family.
- Compassion helps make you more socially ept and less likely to experience loneliness, which has been proven to have a negative impact on our immune system.
- When we are kind to one another we become more kind to ourselves.
Compassion isn’t a check-list, it’s a Practice
There’s no way to fake compassion. You can replicate compassionate acts but they won’t have the same effect on you or the other person unless you are genuinely committed. This ensures that the momentum of compassion is passed on. I’ve experienced this circulatory feeling myself. When I get produce from a farmers market, I’m more likely to not waste the food. When I meet the farmer or the people who picked the apples or raised their chickens for my eggs, I have a face to what I’m putting in my body. I enjoy it more. I want to eat all of the food before it perishes! Because I actually met the people who took a lot of care to grow, nurture, harvest, the plants, so they could feed others. Whereas food from a grocery, we rarely have a human connection to it, and are more likely to not finish the food. I’m even inspired to share more and cook more for others. In this way my body is nourished and I’m inspired to feed other people. I am fulfilled and happy!
You have to face the Mirror
At the end of the day we have to face ourselves. What do you see when you look in the mirror? Are you happy with just not your body but your whole being? In what ways are you reaching out to others? Maybe you need to feel some compassion because you’re going through some tough times. Look up and around and see if anyone else is hurting too. This is the first step. Sometimes, and I’m guilty of this myself, we see people struggling in life, and we don’t want to deal with it in the moment. We turn our heads, pretend we didn’t see, or think “I’m too busy for that, they’ll be fine.” What we don’t realize is that the effort that is required to show compassion is innate in us as human beings and actually doesn’t require that much effort. Compassion for people is like a baby horse that is born running. We just naturally have the capacity.
I mean, It’s 2016!
It’s a brand new year and it’s perfect timing to get into the spirit of helping others! Try to think of ways you can be more compassionate to those around you. Go one step further in helping someone with directions. Take a little more time to get to know a co-worker you’ve never really talked to, or even help a stranger you normally would just pass by and assume someone else would take care of it.
Compassion can be shown on many levels and to anyone. No one is exempt from being able to experience or receive compassion. The person who seems to have it all may need the most help. When we put our focus toward the needs and feelings of others over our own, we only help ourselves. We create a more positive self image, and a more positive view of the world in general. Dare I say hope? And seriously, right about now, I think the world really needs some of that.