What Exactly is Compassion?
‘Compassion’ is a word often used in matters of spirituality and personal development. It’s a critical concept, both for working toward self-growth and for achieving world peace.
However, what would you say is the full meaning of compassion? For me, compassion has three components – the intentions behind our actions, the need to include everyone equally, and self-compassion.
It’s always good to remind ourselves to be more compassionate, to be more giving and empathetic. But the key is purpose. It’s important to ask the question, “Why am I doing this?”
Does compassion come naturally? Or is it forced, like an obligation? Is it something that inflates our own ego? Does it make us feel somehow better than others because of our generosity? This hints at condescension. It is vital, then, to be honest in your intention.
It’s beneficial to develop compassion as a habit, even if it initially feels forced. Over time, the practice becomes part of our lives and it begins to feel very natural.
Compassion is Inclusive
It’s easy to feel compassion for those whom we consider to be less fortunate, for those without opportunities or money, for victims of abuse or debilitating medical conditions, and even for innocent children.
The difficulty comes when we try to extend our compassion toward ‘undeserving persons’ like criminals, for example, or people who have hurt us. We may also have difficulties relating to workplace competitors, politicians, or the ultra-wealthy who seem to have been given every advantage in life.
However, to truly reach a peaceful existence, it is necessary to have compassion for everyone. If we harbor judgmental feelings toward others, it is impossible for us to have inner peace. This is the time to remember that every living person undergoes their own struggles, whether we see them or not. Everyone has their own difficulties and sorrows during their time on Earth.
So, regardless of whether we understand or approve of the lifestyle of others, or even if their actions seem to interfere with our own happiness, it’s still important to feel compassion for them. This may take some determination and resolve, but you will get there and you will feel better for it.
Start by acknowledging the compassion you already feel for someone in your life. Then, practice extending that compassion toward those to whom you feel neutral. And finally, try to extend that compassion toward those with whom you do not see eye to eye.
You may well discover that, in addition to a more peaceful state of mind, you also notice an improvement in your interactions with others and experience an overall sense of wellbeing. Those who have previously caused turmoil in your life might surprise you by becoming a friend.
Don’t Forget to Include Yourself
I’ll use an example from my own life here. I grew up being competitive to achieve success – starting with my grades in school, then getting into a good university, and graduating with a doctorate degree.
Then, at my workplace, there was always competition to be looked upon favorably by my superiors, and to earn raises or promotions. My eye was always on the prize. However, in the process, I sometimes became involved in negative or critical talk. Being critical of others was bad enough, but in being critical of myself, I was terrified of ever making a mistake. I could never let my guard down. And the end result? I was stressed out most of the time.
The discovery of meditation helped me to curb some of these tendencies, but it requires vigilance to avoid slipping back into old habits. Nevertheless, the progress I’ve made thus far has given me a lot of calmness and happiness. I now try to avoid being my worst critic because the truth is, we can never fully accept others until we have accepted ourselves completely.
Why Is Compassion Important?
What would happen if everyone on the planet simultaneously began to practice genuine, heartfelt compassion toward themselves and others? I imagine many of the world’s problems would start to vanish overnight.
That’s an unlikely scenario, however, we can begin with ourselves and also consider the people with whom we interact during the day. It doesn’t have to be anything big or dramatic. Start with a smile, a thank you. Or, hold the door for someone. Let someone go ahead of you in the queue, or while you’re stuck in a traffic jam – those priceless random acts of kindness.
In addition to brightening the day for yourself and others, it is sure to create a ripple effect and some people may even feel the desire to pay it forward.
Often the biggest changes in the world start small, and rapidly snowball into a revolution. Think of the power you hold in your hand to set off a change in the world around you – consider it the start of the compassion revolution.