“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”
Compassion; where would we be without it? The world is a better place thanks to compassion. I think back to my time in junior high school. I was having a bad couple of years, being picked on, rather roughly, at school. One group of bullies would wait outside my classroom, when I came out they would slam me against the lockers, taking turns punching me while students just walked by, snickering. No-one seemed to care. Then one day, one of the football players ran up and chased the bullies off. He told me to find him if I had any more trouble. I’ll never forget him. Just one person out of many. But that one act of compassion really helped. One person had compassion for another, and acted upon it.
Compassion is a wonderful quality to possess, but what is it? Compassion, from the Latin root ‘passio’ to suffer, and the Latin prefix ‘com’ meaning together – to suffer together. Having sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. Having sensitivity. Allowing ourselves to be moved by suffering, and being motivated to help end it. There is a slight difference between compassion and sympathy. Sympathy responds to suffering from sorrow and concern, whereas compassion responds from warmth and care. It is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering. Compassion is also different than empathy or altruism, but related. Empathy is the ability to feel the emotions and feelings of others, where compassion is when those feelings include the desire to help. Altruism is kind selfless behavior prompted by compassion. The qualities of compassion include: patience, wisdom, kindness and warmth.
Okay, so now we know what compassion is. Let’s look at what it does to us, and for us. When we feel compassion, our heart rate slows and we secrete oxytocin, the ‘bonding hormone’. Also, regions in the brain linked to empathy, caregiving, and pleasure light up. If that weren’t enough to convince us, people who practice compassion produce one hundred percent more DHEA, a hormone that counter-acts the aging process. What’s more, compassionate people produce twenty -three percent less cortisol, the ‘stress hormone’. So, we already knew that compassion was good for the planet, now we know that it’s good for our bodies. There are also many psychological benefits from practicing compassion. The Buddhists define compassion as: ‘The heart that trembles in the face of suffering.’ The Dalai Lama said: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
In these most interesting times, we seem to be drifting away from compassion. We are very busy and tend to think more about ‘Me and mine.’ That’s understandable, we must take care of our own, but let’s try to include others, if not all beings in our thoughts and actions. This isn’t always easy to remember, especially the way our leaders are carrying on at this time. Let’s rise above all that.
I remember my friend Chris and I sitting in Mother Superiors office. I don’t remember what we did to end up there, but we were being thrashed by the angry Nun, so much so that Chris started crying. Later, at recess, when we were being asked about our trip to the office, one mean spirited boy asked if Chris had cried. I told the eager crowd “No, he didn’t cry.” I’ll never forget the look of relief on Chris’s face. Such a simple thing to do, yet it made a big difference to Chris. I knew how he felt. I transferred to that Catholic school to get away from the bullying I was receiving. I remember an act of compassion performed by a football player. Small acts of compassion can go a long way. Let’s all try to be a bit more compassionate.
May you always be
Safe, and Comfortable