When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. – Mark 6:34
Be kind and compassionate to one another . . . – Ephesians 4:32
“There never was any heart truly great and generous, that was not also tender and compassionate.” – Robert Frost
“Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.” – Brené Brown
Real estate agents are known for saying, “Location, location, location,” when it comes to selling homes. Here, I want to suggest that “Compassion, compassion, compassion” is the proper mantra for being a decent human being.
Author and playwright Jane Stanton Hitchcock was right when she said, “Compassion is the most necessary ingredient in all relationships. Everything depends on it.”
I agree and would go further by saying that whether or not we have compassion toward others is the most important diagnostic of our soul.
As comedian Bob Hope put it, “If you haven’t got any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.”
What is compassion?
Timothy Miller suggests, “Compassion is the intention to see each human being as no better or worse than yourself, neither more nor less important, and as fundamentally similar to yourself.”
Henri Nouwen says, “Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”
Put those two together, and I think you have a pretty good definition of what compassion is all about.
Each day, we need to redouble our efforts to have compassion for the suffering and pain of others given that it is one of the main ways God draws us out of our unhealthy self-absorption.
At the same time, very few of us are taught to have compassion for ourselves. Just like airlines will tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, we need to put the oxygen mask of compassion on ourselves first each day to have deeper compassion for others.
Compassion for your own pain and suffering in life is just as important as compassion for the pain and suffering of those around you. As author Jack Kornfield put it, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”
We fall into a lot of misconceptions about compassion
- We think it means having pity for others.
- We think it means that we are acting like we’re better than them.
- We think that we shouldn’t have compassion toward those who live life in ways we don’t agree with.
- We think that having compassion for ourselves means we’re being selfish.
All of this is nonsense, lies if you will. Compassion is not pity but empathy.
- We’re not better than anyone else.
- We’re to have compassion for others regardless of how they live their lives.
- Having compassion for ourselves is not selfish – but humble and kind.
Munchkins, I want you to take time each day to offer yourself compassion about the fact that your life has a lot of painful, challenging, and stressful things in it. As weird as it sounds, I want you to offer yourself compassion that you have a hundred things to deal with each day, that people let you down and hurt you, that you don’t get enough appreciation and support along the way (if it’s any comfort to you, no one does), and that on this side of heaven life is a contact sport that will often knock you on your backside.
At the same time, I want you to take time each day to offer compassion to your fellow human beings that this is true for them as well. Before you criticize or condemn someone for the way they live, try to have compassion that they are struggling with life just like you. Try to have a humble, “There but for the grace of God, go I” response to how others are trying to get through life.
And, don’t forget, they are probably looking at you the same way.
Something else. Compassion isn’t just a feeling; it’s supposed to lead to action. “Compassion is a verb” according to religious leader Nhat Hanh. He’s right.
I’m happy for you if you feel compassion for others, but it is even more important that you express your compassion by giving people attention, comfort, encouragement, and understanding. Don’t tell people you have compassion for them, show them through your actions.
Nelson Mandela observed, “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other—not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”
Compassion for ourselves and others keeps us humble about the fact that, as struggling human beings, we’re all in this together . . . as equals.