The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines compassion as “Sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”
I prefer this definition from psychologist Dr. Lauren Tober: “Compassion is a willingness to see and be sensitive to the suffering of others, and also a deep commitment and willingness to do something to alleviate the suffering.”
Compassion, for me, is about loving people, genuinely caring about them, accepting them unconditionally and without judgment, taking them where they are, as they are.
I also believe that compassion, combined with conscious, intentional action, is powerful enough to change the world. In fact, our world will not survive without it. As the Dalai Lama says: “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”
Everyday I listen to the morning news in the car as I drive my daughter to school, and I hear story after story about the craziness and horrors occurring in the world. Everyday on social media I read sad and disheartening posts. Everyday I talk to clients who are disheartened and in pain.
It’s easy to feel discouraged by it all – frustrated, overwhelmed, and powerless to change any of it. So we shut down, hide behind walls of judgement and blame. But shutting down to the pain and suffering around us makes us disconnect from our ability to feel empathy and compassion.
Having compassion opens our hearts to the suffering of others and makes us feel connected, part of our communities. It gives us purpose and hope. Cultivating compassion is taught in all religions of the world, and having compassion is actually our natural state of being.
The lack of compassion that we see in the world comes from unnatural factors such as stress, scarcity, competition, and politics.
We are living in extraordinary times. We are at a turning point not only worldwide, but right here in our own community. Many of us are asking ourselves how can we make a positive impact? How can we foster peace and understanding, acceptance and tolerance? How do we engage in productive dialogue with those who cause us pain?
We cannot wait for change to come from the top down. We must create that change within ourselves, our families, our community, and beyond by adopting a way of life that helps us contribute every day to the peace we want to see in the world.
The first step is to look at our own behaviour and think of ways that we can be more kind and compassionate with ourselves and with others.
Another way is to start thinking about the people that we care about, bring them to mind each day, offer intentions of happiness, joy and success for them. Then step by step expand that list of people we think about daily.
The good news is that compassion is contagious. It has actually been proven scientifically. When we are generous, kind, understanding and compassionate to others, it fosters that behaviour in other people. Our actions affect the people around us, then those people’s actions impact those around them, and so it continues on until all these small circles of people begin to impact bigger and bigger circles of people.
We do not need to be world famous peace-builders like Ghandi or Mandela to effect change in the world. Peace is built by the compassion we each show one another, by the random of acts of kindness we do every day, by the good work we silently do in our communities, by remembering that those that hurt us are also human beings in pain. All we need to do is keep planting tiny seeds of compassion around us every day, and through the contagious ripple effect, we will make this a safe, more peaceful world.