Local Compassion

Posted by on Nov 17, 2011 in Creativity, Ingredients, Micropeacebuilding | 0 comments

When I was a little girl, I had a keen sense of loneliness. I would notice if there happened to be one person who didn’t appear to be having a good time and quickly run to my room, find an item or toy I particularly cherished, wrap it with anything I had in my vicinity, and timidly present it to the intended person. It didn’t really matter to me if the recipient actually wanted my plastic dinosaur or cheap Chinese purse. The small action just felt right and I knew it would rouse happiness. This instinct was usually correct.

I know now I was practicing compassion. Not pity. Not sympathy. Compassion. I was nurturing the ability to feel what someone else may be feeling. There was no hesitation, justification, expectation, or determining if the person was worthy of my kindness and “deserved” my humble offering. While this came easily as a child, as I get older it becomes increasingly difficult to let this instinct overwhelm me instead of the justifications and excuses. It is easy to dismiss other people’s feelings and choose not to feel compassion for their circumstances because they brought it upon themselves or they are not “good” people. However, when we can stir up feelings of compassion in these more complicated situations, we know we are growing as human beings, we know we are expanding our capacity to love. When we can feel compassion for others and then, here’s the key, act on it without expecting recognition or praise is when we know we have touched something in ourselves and between human beings most people don’t recognize or try to find.

My previous post Global Empathy describes how travel can develop empathy for others around the world. When it was published, I was asked the question, “Do you really believe that people who spend all their lives in one place cannot develop the capacity for empathy?” This was thought provoking because we really should develop this capacity no matter what our circumstances. So this post challenges us to do just this and find that part of ourselves that just feels with no reason, no rationalization, and no defenses and then apply it to our immediate surroundings. In the wise words of one my favorite musicians Ryan Adams, “kindness doesn’t ask for much, but an open mind” and I would add, an open heart.

Joan Halifax shares in 13 minutes what she has learned about compassion.

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