Compassion is a word that spans a whole wide range of concepts. Compassion is an emotion, a (deep) awareness people feel when they see the sufferings of other people. This compassion fuels the motivation and the desire to help relieve others of these sufferings.
“Compassion is often seen as the foundation of morality”, according to the author of “Just Babies, The Origin of Good and Evil,” Professor Paul Bloom of Yale University. “Compassion is what you could call caring, concern, fellow feeling, the idea that other people matter to us,” he further adds.
Nature of Compassion
One of the characteristics that distinguishes psychopaths from “normal” people is the lack of fellow feeling or lack of compassion. One may be highly intelligent and exhibits the same emotions and desires other people, but if he doesn’t care for others, he is a deviant. He will get something from another person like money or a possession and does not care if he hurts anyone when he does. He will even kick a dog when he feels bored, for example. If he is given a pep talk about him hurting others, he wouldn’t be convinced about changing his ways because he just doesn’t care at all.
The nature of compassion, of being compassionate comes from the feeling that other people matter to us and that we have a sense of what is right and what is wrong. What is right and what is wrong are debatable at times, depending on cultural and religious beliefs and practices among other things.
People are inherently fundamentally kind.
Despite having differences with other people, there are basic concepts and situations that are deemed universally acceptable as needing compassion or feeling a degree of caring and compassion.
Numbers OR Names
Have you ever noticed how charitable organizations dazzle their donors with numbers? Sometimes it seems unreal to read how many children do not receive even basic education or how many animals are left in the shelter and have not been adopted. It does spark some compassion from our part, right? Right.
On the other hand, to read about a particular child with a name and a distinct face who needs support so that she could be given basic education, the more we feel compassionate and likely to give support because we do not just look at the numbers, but we look at real children who, with our support, might likely have a better future ahead of them.
What are things that spark feelings of compassion, even from those who think that they have hearts “made of stone”? Here are a few examples:
• Abandoned/abused children or children in disadvantaged situations
• Victims of natural calamities
• People who are suffering due to illnesses
• Abandoned/abused pets
• Abandoned/abused elderly
We feel sorrow and compassion when people we do not know are suffering. We donate basic necessities to those who have lost their homes and possessions during typhoons and other calamities. We donate our time and services in making sure that these donations reach their destination. We help feed hungry children. We help provide education to a child who deserves a better life. We do these because we want to help others ease their suffering, never mind if we personally don’t know them.
How much more compassion will we feel when it is a loved one, a parent, a child, a spouse, a sibling, an elderly relative or anyone close to our hearts who is suffering?
How does that make us feel? What would we do to ease the pain and suffering of our loved one? How will we cope and go on with our daily lives when this is happening?
• We storm the heavens with prayers for their recovery.
• We do whatever we can to add joy and lessen their sorrow, pain and suffering.
• We support them through financial means or by offering our shoulders to cry on.
• We support them by just being there, holding their hands, and letting them know they are not alone.
Why do we care about others?
Have you ever observed babies staying together in close proximity? Notice that when one cries, the others cry too.
Have you seen toddlers and pre-schoolers go near another child who seems to be suffering? Observe how they try to sooth the afflicted one to help make him feel better? Toddlers love to “help” the people around them, like their siblings or other family members, even without prompting.
That is compassion, a fellow feeling that is a part of our nature.
How compassion develops depends on the environment and the people that we grew up with.
Compassion may be masked because of a mutual benefit system, that we are mindful of one another because a lot depend on us working together to reach our goals. It might be a religious code that prompts us to be compassionate. It could also be a belief in some philosophical theory of morality that makes us do acts of compassion.
Whatever reason we have in showing compassion, more often than not, compassion comes from the heart.
Compassion starts at home
Some might argue that even if compassion starts at home, these will vary and would depend in people’s personal circumstances. There are families who are big on compassion such as there are families who do not give importance to compassion.
The “little things” matter and when we give the right responses, we do not just show compassion but teach compassion.
When we feel and show that we are happy with a family member’s success, be it big or a small one, we show that we care.
When we are compassionate with someone, we take into consideration their feelings, their perspective, their interests. When we do so, we care more about them and feel more concerned. Shared feelings motivate compassion and when that happens, we think of ways to translate it into something real, practical and useful.
Not every day will present a situation where compassion can be taught. However, in our own little ways, through our smiles, pats on the back, positive nods of the head or even positive words, we can do a lot to teach compassion.
Dalai Lama said “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
Writer George Eliott has his own take: “What do we live for if not to make life less difficult for each other?”
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