You may be surprised to learn that compassion is often defined in different ways. In general, people tend to define compassion as caring for those who are hurting in some way or having empathy for others. If we see someone in a situation which we wouldn’t want to be in, we feel compassionate towards that person. We may feel drawn to help them in some way. We sometimes say, ‘I feel your pain’.
There are also times when we feel compassion for the underdog; the person or group of persons who are being mistreated because they are deemed different in some way. This could be because of a handicap, or their religious beliefs, social status, nationality, sexual orientation or because of the way they look or dress. Our reaction may be one of outrage as we witness the unfair treatment that have been inflicted on these individuals. We may have the urge to put our arm around these victims or to join some sort of committee that gives aid to the oppressed.
Recently, I came across a broader definition of compassion. This broader sense of compassion is described as more loving and inclusive than my previous ideas of what compassion was all about. It is compassion-one-step-deeper. It stems from the belief that every individual is inherently good and requires us to see pass the harmful or irritating behaviour of others and to focus in on their goodness–their light within. When we focus on the goodness of an individual , his spirit is brought to light allowing the person’s loving self to awaken. This is the real challenge of living the light of compassion. This practice of compassion eradicates the judging of others. It is compassion towards those who we may find difficult. For instance, my son works with a young man who struggles socially due in part to lack of confidence I suspect. To compensate, he makes up stories about his beautiful girlfriend, his many friends and his nights out partying. His stories are often vulgar and explicit. Usually, they are inconsistent showing that he is not very good at lying. My son has been taught compassion. He knows this young man is insecure, that he may have aspergers and is more than likely unhappy so he listens to his stories while having lunch in the canteen. Though he doesn’t challenge the validity of the stories, he has challenged the lack of respect this young man shows his girlfriend while still focusing on his inherent goodness. This is an example of compassion in action.
Compassion needs to start in the heart. It is no good trying to act compassionately when in reality you don’t feel compassionate. Compassion is a gift you offer from your heart. You give that gift when you seek the beauty within the person who is hurting you. This form of compassion is birthed from forgiveness. It doesn’t mean you allow yourself to stay within a dangerous situation or relationship. It doesn’t mean you allow others to be harmed by a dangerous individual either. No individual should be allowed to harm others. It is absolutely right to have a holy outrage when you witness the persecution of others or when you yourself are persecuted. However, the abuser has no chance of rehabilitation if he has no one in his life who believes in him; no one who can see the potential goodness in him.
Every individual who crosses our path is potentially our teacher in life. Every one of us will have many opportunities to learn and practice compassion. We can show compassion towards the co-worker who makes mistakes all the time, or the child who has a temper tantrum or the driver in the other car who gives us the finger, or the person who lies about us. We can have compassion because we do not know their life story and how they have been shaped by various events in their lives. We can have compassion when we remind ourselves that we are all equal. You may think yourself smarter, more fashionably dressed or kinder than the person who appears to be giving you the dirty look but those are illusions. You are not better than they are. You both equally have potential for goodness or failure. Which is also why it is also important to have self-compassion. This is not the same as self-pity. To have self-compassion is to understand that you have flaws but you are learning and that God understands this. He understands you better than you do. He knows what has shaped you and what your true potential is. It also means that you never give up on yourself. You make a mistake but you can keep learning to love better.