Back in January, a friend told me about a budding movement of bloggers who wanted to spread compassion by getting 1000 people to write about it on the same day. It’s called 1000 Voices for Compassion and the day is here (read all the posts here).
I’ve had over a month to come up with it, to plan my post, to write something fantastic and deep. I wanted to come up with a groundbreaking concept that no one had ever thought of and had the power to change the world. Something BIG that would make a splash or at least make people cry. I knew I could tell a bunch of stories about compassion that I’ve witnessed but I kept getting sidetracked with these nagging thoughts:
Am I really as compassionate as I think I am? When it really matters in my little corner of the universe, do I do enough?
I’ve studied the definition of compassion: A feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate their suffering.
I’m really adept at the sympathy part. I care deeply about people, even ones I don’t particularly like. Who doesn’t feel sympathy when they hear about the atrocities happening in our world and right in our own backyards?
Author Mohsin Hamid wrote, “Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself.” I’m really good at that.
But compassion requires something more. It’s the action component of compassion that seems to be lacking in the world (in my world). A strong desire to alleviate suffering isn’t enough. We have to do something about it.
Anne Lamott brilliantly wrote, “I’m a recovering higher power: I deeply want to fix and rescue everyone, but can’t.”
I bet a lot of people feel that way. I bet the knowledge that we can’t do it all keeps a lot of us from doing what we can.
Have you ever noticed how some people say ‘no problem’ in response to a thank you instead of ‘you’re welcome’? I’m guilty of that sometimes. I’ll say ‘no problem’ when what I did to help wasn’t particularly difficult for me and I don’t want to draw attention to the fact that I didn’t have to try very hard. But since helping anyone in any form is a big deal for the recipient, brushing it off as ‘no problem’ seems rude.
I really hate it when I thank someone and they say, “Just doing my job.” But is that really so bad? When we have a strong desire to alleviate someone’s pain and jumping into action is our natural response, we are indeed doing our earthly jobs, doing what we were created to do. Help each other. Take care of each other. Give what we can. Jesus was pretty clear about that.
When my oldest sister died, I was completely overwhelmed at the thought of helping with the food for the memorial. Thank God, my other sister stepped in to organize it. It was something she felt capable of doing. I, on the other hand, had no problem calling funeral chapels and making the arrangements for her cremation. It was something I knew I could do. My brother used his skills to put together a photo memorial and my niece wrote a beautiful tribute for the memorial cards. Every single person who knew and loved her did what they could. Some just showed up, which is no small task. Some posted tributes on Facebook, cards and texts were sent and many hugs were given. In our own way we each took part in alleviating each other’s suffering. My mother, as she absorbed the reality of losing her oldest baby, was grateful for every effort, no matter how big or small.
If each of us offers what we’re able and gives it freely, we can change the world.
And when we’re faced with an opportunity to stretch outside our comfort zones and offer help that doesn’t come naturally to us, we can’t be so concerned with doing it right. Have you ever held back from offering help because you were afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing? I have. Those are some of my biggest regrets. I’m talking about little moments where a decision to act was needed; times I’ve turned my head away, hands I didn’t hold, items that went into the trash, pain I shyed away from, risks I was afraid to take, times I didn’t want to ‘get involved’. But when I look back at the times I tried to help someone and it didn’t turn out the way I thought it would or I even made it worse, it was still better than doing nothing.
If each of us risks offering compassion imperfectly, we can change the world.
So, my BIG and splashy point is to follow Yoda’s advice: “Try not. Do…or do not. There is no try.” Or, if the little green dude’s backward talk confuses you: There is no try, only do.
DO think kind thoughts because our thoughts guide our actions.
DO share your gifts and talents to help others.
DO help people you don’t relate to, don’t like and don’t feel are deserving. Conditional compassion is a big NO.
DO let the words come out of your mouth even if you think you’ll sound dumb.
DO reach out even if you think you’ll be rejected.
DO what you know, do what you can, bring what you’re able.
The world’s on fire and
It’s more than I can handle
I’ll tap into the water
(Try and bring my share)
I try to bring more
More than I can handle
(Bring it to the table)
Bring what I am able
– Sarah McLachlan, World on Fire
Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity. – Pema Chödrön