Practice Compassion

Practicing Compassion will transform your life

Wisdom, compassion, and courage are the three universal qualities of men.                                                          — Confucius

I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion.   — Lao Tzu

People from all parts of the people, people of different cultures and religions, point to compassion as one of the greatest virtues. Through compassion, we not only make someone else happier, we also feel happier.

What is Compassion?

An old man with black cap looks unhappyIt is not unusual to see an old man like the one in the picture. He certainly doesn’t seem to be happy. Do you hurry past and look the other way? Or able you able to at least wonder what he might be thinking or feeling. You can’t solve all his problems but can you at least wonder what you could do to make him just a little happier?

Could you simply recognize that he exists? Could you smile and say, “Good morning, sir. It’s a beautiful day isn’t it?  If he’s sitting on a bench, would you be able to sit next to him and start a simple conversation? He may not have anyone to talk to. And if a conversation goes well, you might even tell him how much you enjoyed talking to him, and perhaps ask if you could buy him some lunch so you could continue the conversation?

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.                    — Leo Buscaglia

I often wonder how the word “Compassion” is translated into different languages. Compassion is one of those strange words that is defined in many ways in different dictionaries. One dictionary defines it as pity, one as love. Most people, even those who are suffering, don’t want your pity, they don’t exect your love. What they want is for someone to know that they exist, to care about them, and perhaps to do something.

I would define compassion as being like caring. Caring about someone is a feeling. Caring for them is taking care of them – helping them.

Compassion is about how you feel when faced with suffering.

And Compassion is action to relieve the suffering. It might be direct action like handing the hungry person a sandwich or it might be indirect like supporting a food pantry or soup kitchen to help feed the hungry.

Love and accept everyone for who they are, for where they are in life. That is compassion.
—Kristi Bowman

Why is Compassion included in a website on Learning Skills?

Let’s use another word. Compassion is about making a difference. It can involve a saying kind word to a classmate. It can include being a mentor to a classmate who needs help or a younger student who is thinking of dropping out. Or you might join a group fighting against hunger, war, or prejudice around the world.

But perhaps you don’t want to feed the hungry. You want to have fun in college, make good grades, and go on to get a job with a good salary.

A person who chooses not to be compassionate is a selfish, self-centered person.

Is this what you want to be.  A selfish person might hang around with other people, especially with those who admire him… but that’s not having friends. Studies have shown that  people who succeed in business or in other areas of life have the most empathy. Empathy is another word for compassion.

Compassion is included in this website because

Compassionate people

1. Have more and better friends because they care about other people.
2. Makes a better leader because they work well with others .
3. Have goals that might involve making a difference in the world/
4. Works better with other students on projects.
5. Gets along better with professors as well as other students
6. Are even more healthy. Research shows that compassion helps your immune system.
7. Are happier.  They are happier students which means they learn more.
8. They will be happier in whatever career they follow and will be more successful.

If you want others to be happy, practice Compassion.
If you want to be happy, practice Compassion.
—    Dalai Lama

What is meant by PRACTICING Compassion?

Practice is another word with different meanings. We practice a skill in order to improve. We might practice the piano or practice basketball.

Another meaning is the application of the skills you learned in a profession. A doctor practices medicine. An attorney practices law. When they go into business, they say they are setting up a practice.

The same distinction is true with compassion. We practice compassion with regular exercises in order to improve our skills. Then we can spend the rest of our lives practicing compassion, putting it into action.

1. Begin by being aware of people around you, especially those who are unhappy, frustrated, discouraged.

We aren’t talking now about the children starving or being killed elsewhere in the world. We’re talking about the boyA girl sits alone at a table with a cup of coffe. She seems to be upset. down the hall, the girl in your math class, the people you see in the cafeteria.

The girl in the picture is sitting alone at a table and seems to be upset. She seems just about to pull out her hair. What do you think might be the problem?

Did she just fail a test?  Did she read a chapter without understanding it?  Is she running out of money and her parents can’t or won’t send any more until the first of the month?  Is she upset because her boyfriend found someone else?

2. Picture yourself in her position. Feel what she must be feeling.

How would you feel if you failed a test? If you couldn’t understand what you were reading, if you were running out of money, if your boyfriend or girlfriend left you?

A selfish person might say, “I’m sure I’d feel bad.” But he isn’t really feeling bad, personally.

You need to imagine you actually have that problem. It is you that failed that test. You don’t just feel “bad”. Maybe you feel guilty because you didn’t study hard enough. Maybe you get angry because the teacher wrote such a hard test. Maybe you feel discouraged. You studied so hard. You can’t imagine how you could have done better. Maybe you just feel stupid. You might even think that you should never have come to college.  You probably have a mixture of such feelings.

Now image how these feelings are going to affect the girl at the table. Will she study harder? Or will she be so upset and discouraged that she gives up?

If you were this person, what would you want most? Would you want pity? Probably not. Would you like sympathy, a friendly listener, someone understanding who to help you sort out your feelings? Maybe a friend could make you feel better, encourage you, remind you of times when you did well. Maybe your friend can suggest ways to get the test off your mind for a little while. You could play frisbee or ping-pong, watch something funny on TV, or just take a walk together. How would you feel with a friend like that?

The point of this exercise is to feel what the unhappy person is feeling and imagine what would make you feel better in his place before you rush over to cheer him up.

3. Begin with a goal of doing at least one thing every day to make someone’s day better.

a. Smile when you see someone.
b. Use honest compliments. “You really look good today. I think the colors in that shirt are so nice.”  “What you said is Sociology was so true. I ‘m glad you said that.”  “You have such a beautiful smile. It always makes me feel happier.”
c. Offer sympathy, and possibly advice or help.  You must have felt terrible when the professor said your essay was poorly written. I can’t believe he’d say that to anyone. You must feel awful. Do you think he was just having a bad day, or do you need help writing? I don’t write all that well either, but I’ve heard that the Writing Center is really great.  Maybe we could go there together.”
d.  Thank people who have helped you. “I just want to thank you Professor Johnson. That lecture was really interested. I especially liked the part where… ”

From practicing compassion as learning to practicing compassion as acting

1.  Decide how you can make a difference.

Begin by practicing compassion with your friends and classmates. Sympathize when they have a problem. Encourage them. Offer to help them if you can. In other words, be the very best friend you can be.

But sometimes there are people you don’t know who have a problem. Perhaps what they need most is a friend.

Look at the girl sitting alone at the table. Could you be her friend? What could you do?

The girl at the table picks up her cup. I think she is now talking to someone.Think about what how you imagined a friend could help you. Why don’t you get a cup of coffee or tea and ask if you can join her. Introduce yourself if you’ve never met her.

You might begin a conversation by asking if she’d had a hard day. If she doesn’t respond, continue to say “I’ve had plenty of hard days… days when nothing seems to go right”… and share your experience.  You might ask if she’d like to talk about it… that sometimes people find it helpful to tell someone what happened. Then, you need to be a good listener.

As I look at this picture, the girl at the table no longer seems to be alone. She is looking intently at the person who joined her. In a few minutes, she will probably ready to talk about why she was so upset.

If she doesn’t want to talk, tell her “That’s OK. I understand that some things are really hard to talk about.” So you might just get to know her better, her classes, her family, her hopes for the future, Maybe sometime in the future she’ll want to talk. But for the moment, having you offer to listen shows her that someone does care.

You might decide to make a difference in a larger area.

1. You might create an organization on campus to solve a problem with students or in the local area. You could be mentors to new students on campus or mentors to local children.

2. You could organize students to prepare for local and regional emergencies. You might collect supplies and be ready to go when a hurricane, earthquake or tornado strikes.

3. You could create a local group to help support a national or global organization. You could work with Habitat for Humanity and set a goal to help build a house every year.  You could work with Heifer Project and raise money to provide a cow or sheep or pig or chickens for a family to help them feed their children and to make enough money to send their children to school.

Some people think that only intellect counts: knowing how to solve problems, knowing how to get by, knowing how to identify as advantage and seize it. But all the functions of the intellect are insufficient without courage, love, friendship, compassion, empathy.                                                                               —    Dean Koontz

To watch a short video of a Ted Talk on Compassion

If you haven’t already discovered Ted Talks, you might explore some of the other wonderful short videos.