See that man. If you could see what that one person has walked through from their earliest time from all their growing up time; through everything they wanted to believe in that did not believe in them; through everything that didn’t last; through every heartbreak that got them here today, you would fall down on your knees in awe and there would never be another stranger. Stephen Jenkinson
In an earlier blog, I said that I did not believe in Christian dogma, but was a Christian in that Christ taught love, compassion and tolerance. And, I could identify deeply with those values. So let’s explore compassion by first talking about empathy.
It wasn’t until I was 54 that I had a deep personal understanding of the experience of empathy. In the past, I had been masterful in distancing myself from others’ emotionality.
I was observing men on a New Warrior Adventure Weekend who were deeply in touch with the pain in their lives and I found myself moved to tears vicariously feeling their pain. I now felt the emotion of empathy. It is the capacity to see clearly into the nature of suffering; to vicariously experience another’s emotions.
Compassion is empathy coupled with the imperative that “someone, perhaps me, should do something about that”. There is an intention to act because of others are suffering and to recognize that I am not separate from this suffering. Compassion comes from our oneness.
In 2010, I found myself with 50 executive volunteers in a prison with 100 inmates enrolled in The Prison Entrepreneur Program. I was deeply touched by the participants’ appreciation for my being there and their desire for redemption. My feeling of compassion caused me to continue to volunteer and become a member of their Houston Advisory Board for a number of years.
While I have decided not to give money to street beggars, I donate to the Star of Hope Mission as an act of compassion for the homeless.
The Buddhist’s have the concept of loving kindness where you focus on others’ suffering while meditating. When you type “compassion” into YouTube, you get a lot of Buddhist teachers and almost no Christian teachers. What’s that about? Most compassionate Christian ministries have the hook of conversion attached to them. Buddhists don’t seem to have that, although I think the Christians seem to have more ministries that help those in need.
I don’t think one has to be religious to express compassion. There is something about our humanity that evokes these feelings and desire to act. In 2017 Hurricane Harvey devastated parts of Houston and the mayor called for volunteers. Thousands of people rose to the occasion, even putting themselves in danger to help others.
How about you?
Can you truly empathize with others? Put yourself in their shoes?
In what ways do you practice compassion by performing acts of loving kindness?