Monday, April 14, 2014

Compassion in an Non-Compassionate World

Compassion in an Non-Compassionate World
Can we be compassionate in an often non-compassionate world? If the answer is no, then we're pretty much all doomed. But if the answer is yes, then there is hope for humanity. But yes and no answers are very definitive. Limiting, even. I think the real question and answer is far more complicated than it first appears.

What exactly is compassion?

Compassion is the ability to empathize with another. When someone is suffering, compassion is the emotion that compels us to want to help that person. Literally, the word compassion means "to suffer together".

Let's say you're an agent representing an organization that helps a group of needy people. But within the agency, there are rules that say you cannot meet with individuals one-on-one. This bothers you, because you believe that one-on-one contact is necessary in order for you to show compassion.

Another example...

Let's say you're a teacher. A student who is not well-versed in English handed in a paper that is difficult to decipher. You see that the student made an honest effort and you want to be able to recognize this effort beyond the language barrier. You also know that culturally, this student must get a certain grade in order to be considered honourable within their family and community. But the system does not permit you to mark a student's paper on anything but what has been adopted within the curriculum. Part of that is a working understanding of the English language.

Are these rules really stifling an attempt at showing kind-heartedness? Or is it your definition of how you show compassion the real culprit?

When we put limits on what acts qualify as being compassionate, are we not then the ones responsible for our own lack of compassion?

And this says nothing of the world we've labeled "non-compassionate".

Compassion denotes the ability to be understanding. To be able to put ourselves in the shoes of others. To see the situation or circumstances behind the act or decision.

So by virtue of this description, when we label anything as "non-compassionate", are we not preventing ourselves from being compassionate toward what we've labeled? Heady yes. But this is worth examining.

We often don't understand why rules exist as they do. We are quick to judge, not so quick to see what I call the whys and fore-art-thous.

In the first example, perhaps the rule preventing one-on-one contact was put in place because the needs of the many must outweigh the needs of one. Perhaps someone once did meet one-on-one and made a decision for that one person that compromised the many. Therefore, the rule was adopted to prevent further compromises.

In the second example, perhaps the marking rules are in place because other teachers find it impossible to mark based on the subjectivity that you would like to implement.

My point is, there are reasons for everything. And when we recognize the reasons and bring understanding into the picture rather than judgment, we are exhibiting a form of compassion.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating a laissez faire attitude. Not at all. If you believe there is a fundamental unfairness to whatever the rule may be, then make the choice to work toward change, from a place of understanding.

But regardless of whether or not you deem the rules to be fair, do those rules and regulations have to stop you from being compassionate toward the person you actually want to help? The answer lies in just how limiting your beliefs are about how to show compassion.

Is one-on-one direct contact the only way to show your empathy? Or can you show it with a loving smile?

Is there another way to show compassion to the student other than grading the paper higher? What about telling the student what you do recognize, even though your hands are tied about the grade you can give? What about offering encouragement?

Don't make the mistake of discounting what seems the simplest acts. Compassion does not necessarily lie in acts of grandness. It can lie in some of the smallest, even imperceptible ones.

When we limit ourselves in how to actually show compassion in any given situation, we miss the opportunity to discover new ways in which to show it.  But when we look at each situation as yet another opportunity for discovery, then we will find new, perhaps even more impact-full ways to show our kind-heartedness.

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1 comment:

  1. The other day at Tim Hortons I was being surved by a young lady who was obviously new at the job. She did not know how to reload my Tim Card and needed help from another employee. I was very polite and offered friendly conversation as this was happening and then when all was done thanked them for all their help. I left them both with smiles on their faces and I was feeling pretty damn good about myself. A wonderful experience


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