Compassion is the ability to see your self in others and the desire to release others from their suffering. When you see your self in others, you are seeing your own flaws, your own failures, and your own humanity in another person: a projection of self. To better see your self in others, it helps to put your self in their shoes and try to understand what might cause the person behave in such a way. It requires you to remain flexible in how you perceive others and their actions, and remember that we are more the same than we are different.
When an individual does something that raises a strong negative emotion within us (i.e. anger, fear etc.), instead of reacting to that emotion, we can increase our awareness in the moment and use this as an opportunity to begin building compassion. For example, if someone does something that we consider rude and we find ourselves feeling angry or intolerant of that person, first ask yourself, “Why is being rude a problem for me?” You may find the answer will surprise you. Next ask yourself, “What is it that the person is doing that I don’t like in myself? Is it possible that I have ever been rude in the past or possibly might be rude in the future?” These questions, if answered truthfully, and only you know if you are being truthful, will open you to the possibility that you might be as susceptible to being as imperfect as the other person. This exercise helps to observe similarities in people instead of the polarities. When we recognize the similarities in each other, we begin to see the humanity in each other and in return build compassion.
The Dalai Lama said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” There is scientific proof that practicing compassion triggers the pleasure center of the brain, which makes us happy and reinforces the desire to be compassionate. When we are compassionate towards others, we remove ourselves from the self-centered “me, myself and I” state and move toward an outward state of being. In this state we are no longer focused on our own problems, but toward acknowledging the emotional state of others and how we can help or at least understand them. This shift can help us feel happier and also more connected to others, which helps us feel more connected to our self.
Envision a world where everyone exercised compassion. Would hardship still exist? Adversity would still exist because struggle is a part of the human experience and key to survival. However, if we lived in a more compassionate world, there would be more empathetic people who would offer assistance to help relieve suffering. In a world where there is lack of concern for individuals, hardship would endure and a great deal of needless suffering would exist. This is because people would be acting purely out of self-interest, which is very similar to the hypothetical “dog-eat- dog world.” Compassion does not necessarily alleviate hardship, but it does help to relieve suffering. Try to imagine a world without charitable organizations, whose hard effort and dedication to those in desperate need attempts to relieve the suffering of millions of people without basic necessities. They are coming from a place of compassion for humanity.
One simple way to practice compassion is to imagine your self in someone else’s place. How could you better understand them from their perspective? It is key to try to understand them not from your perspective, but from theirs. Some questions you could ask yourself to better appreciate their perspective are, “What is it like to be them? What would cause them to see the world the way they do? How might they be struggling? What hardships might they have? How would these drive their behavior?”
Once you have explored these questions, you will naturally have a better understanding of their humanity that is not limited to your perception as seen through your prejudices and personal filters.
In summary, practicing compassion for others will broaden your perspectives, make you happier, and help you to better connect to how each of us struggles. Practicing compassion for others also helps us have compassion for ourselves because we begin to see that we are all human. Compassion is built is with practice one day at a time.
Kelly Thiel is Modern Day Wellness