In the Oxford dictionary, compassion is described as:
"Sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others"
Literally, compassion means "to suffer together." Unlike empathy (which it is sometimes confused with), compassion doesn't stop at taking another person's perspective into account or just feeling that person's emotions. You feel compassionate, when you also have the motivation and desire to help the suffering person.
You respond emotionally by wanting to understand the situation of a suffering person and you feel compelled to help them.
Are we compassionate enough? Why do we only choose to help others now and again and not all of the time?
Would you help a stranger in need if you were running late for work?
There was an opportunity that I didn't take once. I still think about it. I was driving past a woman that had just collapsed on a pavement, I saw that she had three people taking care of her and I slowed my car down to stop and then decided to carry on driving. Should I have stopped? Did I show enough compassion just by worrying about her and assuming that one of those surrounding her would have called an ambulance?
What do you do or feel when you are confronted with another person's suffering? Do you feel the need to help them? To relieve them from their misery? Do you feel their pain?
We focus so much on what we have to do and our lack of time. We rush from one place to the next, our lives are filled with things to do, places to be that we sometimes don't allow ourselves to be more compassionate.
What does compassion mean to you?
-It is giving my fresh cup of hot coffee to the homeless guy on the street, knowing I won't have time to get another that morning, but realising I can get another cup anytime.
-It is not making a mother feel inadequate at a restaurant who cannot control her child when he is throwing the biggest tantrum ever.
-It is reading about horrific events in the world and not stereotyping a whole culture or religion because of the actions of a few evil individuals.
-It is recognising that you can't believe everything you hear or see in the media and thus making an effort to learn more about and spending time with the people that you are being told to judge and hate.
-It is trying to understand another person's perspective when they have hurt you.
-It is about focusing on others rather than yourself.
-It is assuming the best in others. Always giving people the benefit of the doubt, even when they have really annoyed or upset you.
-It is focusing on a human being and looking beyond their race, religion, habitat and beliefs.
-It is trying to come up with an excuse for someone who ignored you in the street, telling yourself that they may have been preoccupied that day or in a rush.
-It is staying up late (knowing full well you have an early start for work) to listen to your friend in need because you know he or she needs your listening ear and advice.
-It is thinking good of others when you really don't want to, even when they have hurt you. Trying to figure out why they may have lashed out and said those painful words.
-It is baking a cake on a hot day for a charity fundraiser even though you have a work deadline to meet.
-It is clearing your neighbour's drive, while you're out clearing yours because you know they'll find it difficult to do it themselves.
-It is simply holding the door open for someone who has their hands full.
-It is putting others before yourself, because you feel their pain and you really want to help lighten their load in whatever small way you can.
Why is compassion important? How can it be GOOD for YOU?
"Grief can be the garden of compassion, if you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life's search for love and wisdom."
When we reach out to understand others, put them first and think of their needs, we are more likely to feel more fulfilled.
When we look to others' problems, our own may feel trivial and more manageable.
Our perspective broadens when we help others. When we focus on someone else's problem, we shift the focus from ourselves. According to some studies, this can help with anxiety and depression.
Compassion actually leads to health benefits believe it or not!
-Sara Konrath, at the University of Michigan, found that a compassionate lifestyle can act as a buffer against stress. She showed that people who volunteered for altruistic reasons (not self-serving reasons), lived longer than those who didn't volunteer.
-A study by Steve Cole (University of California, Los Angeles) and APS Fellow Barbara Fredrickson (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) found that "people who are happy because they live a life of purpose or meaning had low levels of the cellular inflammation associated with many diseases, including cancer."(Reported at the Stanford Medical School's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education's (CCARE) inaugural Science of Compassion conference in 2012)
-Neuroscientist Jordan Grafman from the National Institutes of Health did a brain-imaging study which showed "that the "pleasure centers" in the brain, i.e., the parts of the brain that are active when we experience pleasure (like dessert, money, and sex), are equally active when we observe someone giving money to charity as when we receive money ourselves."
-Studies have shown that being socially connected to others is vital for our well-being and has been found to increase our longevity, strengthen our immune system and recover from disease faster. Being connected to others socially and having a compassionate lifestyle therefore can improve your self-esteem, physical and psychological health.
Imagine a world where everyone consciously tried to do at least one compassionate thing a day.
We read and see many horrific things on a daily basis. There is enough ignorance and hate in the world at present. We focus on so much of it; we are literally bombarded by it via media outlets. Yet there are so many amazing people in the world, doing such worthwhile things to help others on a daily basis. We need to talk about those people. We need to focus on our strengths and what brings us together. Not what drives us apart.
Let's all work on becoming more compassionate. Together, we can help each other AND ourselves.