What does compassion mean in today’s society? Differences often get in the way of basic kindnesses, whether those examples of compassion happen through word or deed. It may be easy to express sympathy when a friend’s parent dies but what about when an acquaintance’s grown child develops a drug problem? Or when the family in front of you is using food stamps?
What Does Compassion Mean & How Do We Apply It In Our Lives
Importance of Compassion In Life
We say we live in a “global” society but don’t understand the positive implications of this modern reality. In fact, technology and education offer us the opportunity to understand the plights of other people, other creatures and the planet itself. If only we listen with enough love to let compassion sink in, everything might be a little bit better. It is more than enough reasons to be compassionate.
How To Apply Compassion In Our Lives
1. Start With Empathy
Compassion vs empathy. Most of us know that empathy is not the same thing as sympathy (ie., compassion). Yet to cultivate compassion for others often starts with developing empathy. It may seem like a cliche but you must “walk a mile in another man’s moccasins” before compassion begins.
To understand problems other than our own, adults have to use their imagination. Only by imagining what it’s like to be in another person’s situation do we develop empathy and finally, compassion. For many people, there is a disconnect between hearing about someone else’s unfortunate situation and actually being able to feel for that person (without suspecting that she might have brought it upon herself).
2. Consider Sacrificing for the Greater Good
There will be a time when someone practicing compassion is confronted by an uncomfortable realization: opening your hearts to others means you may need to give up something you care about.
For example, hearing about a country where people are forced to work in strip mines by companies that sell to smartphone makers may force you to reconsider using that brand or even give up smartphones altogether.
Compassionate people also feel concern for living creatures other than humans. If you learn that your favorite shampoo contains ingredients which endanger a certain species (palm oil and orangutan habitats is a well-known example) it may force you to switch to another product. You’ll even begin to spread the word about the issue on social media.
3. Understand that Politics is Personal
Public discourse these days can get so ugly. Many of us choose to either opt out of the conversation or get sidetracked by arguing on social media. It’s easy to forget that decisions made on the local, state and federal levels affect real lives. Also, government action, corporate regulations, and even school policies influence adults, children, and the environment.
People don’t become concerned about these shifting laws and policies until they or their loved one is affected. People who don’t consider themselves homophobic, for example, might still wonder what the big deal about protecting equal marriage rights is. Yet studies show that often, even individuals who oppose gay marriage are likely to change their minds if they learn that a child or friend is gay and unable to marry.
4. Recognize That Practicing Compassion Doesn’t Make You a “Sucker”
Many people resist feelings of sympathy because they don’t want to ignore the fact that someone may have done something unethical or illegal to bring them to their current situation. They also worry, sometimes with good reason, that offering help in the form of a small loan or a favor might make them vulnerable to future appeals for help from the same person.
Feeling compassion doesn’t mean you have to suspend your own good sense or to ignore wrongdoing. It simply means that even if a part of you is skeptical, you can still react with kindness to the person who is suffering. At the very least, you can avoid adding to his or her misery by not contributing to public condemnation–the very opposite of compassion.
Big Think shows a video on compassion being natural for us yet we still find it hard to express:
If you’re struggling to balance cultivating true compassion with how that fits into your own moral compass, you’re not alone. Discussion, education, and practice can often point the way forward for a lifestyle of compassion.
Have you shown compassion to other people or to other living creatures lately? Share your experience with us in the comments section below!