The results of living with true compassion. Have you ever thought about it? Let me tell you about an incident that touched my heart. I teach at a school for visually impaired and blind children. Most of our children are poor and come from far to live in the school hostels. Apart from struggling with eye problems, some also have other difficulties. We have a tiny little girl in secondary school. She is so tiny that she needs a smaller desk than the others. But apart from that, she has a severely malformed spine. I can only imagine the pain that she must endure daily.
Recently I hurt my back when I moved a cupboard. Due to a slipped disk and unstable vertebrate, I was in extreme pain and could hardly walk. But I had to continue with my duties.
One morning during the exam, this girl called me. “Mam,” she said, “are you ok? You seem to be in a lot of pain”. I explained to her what had happened and continued with my duties. A few minutes later, she called me again. “Mam, can I take something out of my bag?” I asked what she wanted, and her answer was “Paracetamol.” I thought she must be in pain, so I permitted her to take it out. She put the pills in my hand and said, “Take two. It will help for the pain”. I was stunned. And then, I realized two things: I felt hugely validated and had tremendous respect for the awareness and caring that this young child displayed. What a more friendly place the world would be if we all would show compassion!
But what is compassion? To understand compassion, we are going to look at some definitions.
What is compassion?
Let’s look at the definitions of the following related concepts. It will help us to understand precisely how compassion differs from the other. We will look at kindness, sympathy, empathy, and compassion.
A kind person is selfless and caring. She shares love with acts like an excellent deed, a smile, a friendly word, or a surprise. Her kindness extends to all people and not only those who suffer.
Sympathy means that you can understand the feeling of a suffering person. You feel sorry for the person but do not necessarily share their emotions.
When you show empathy, you put yourself in the place of the suffering person. It means you see things from the person’s view and understand them. However, you will not necessarily help the person.
The meaning of compassion is “to suffer together.” When you encounter another person’s suffering and want to ease that suffering, you are showing compassion. There are two aspects:
- The suffering touches you
- You want to mitigate the suffering.
You step away from the emotion and find ways to help.
So, you can see that compassion is more than feeling sorry or understanding the feelings of the suffering person. It means that you reach out and help that person.
Elements of compassion
Compassion consists of five elements (Strauss et al.):
- Recognize the suffering
It refers to your awareness of the suffering of a person. By being mindful, you notice a person’s suffering and feel distressed. But you remain open to it and do not disengage because of your distress.
- Understand the universality of human suffering
We all suffer in different ways. It can be physical, mental, or spiritual. Perhaps you can think of losing a loved one, having unfulfilled dreams, having a severe illness, or having financial troubles. And you know that you could easily be in the same boat. Nobody has a perfect life.
- Concern for the person who is suffering.
It means that the suffering of another person moves you. You put yourself in her shoes and experience how she feels.
- Tolerate uncomfortable feelings
Being confronted with the suffering of another may elicit uncomfortable feelings in yourself. You may be angry, sad, or disgusted, but stay non-judgemental. You are not in a place to judge the person. A compassionate person can tolerate painful feelings and push through to the last stage.
- Moved to alleviate suffering
It is the stage where you act to make the situation more bearable for the person.
The last two are the problematic stages. It may be where people become discouraged and leave. Perhaps we must look at the qualities of a compassionate person to see what makes her different.
Qualities of a compassionate person
A compassionate person displays the following qualities:
- Mindfulness means she is aware of the moment and accepts her thoughts and feelings.
- Resilience refers to her ability to recover from adversities.
- Gratitude implies that she is thankful and appreciative of her life.
- Spiritual refers to the belief that there is something greater than being human. We are part of a universal whole.
- She is open and feels free to talk about her thoughts and feelings.
- The compassionate person knows she is not perfect and accepts her flaws.
- She has empathy for people around her and therefore understands their situation better.
- She reaches out to people who need help and wants the best for them and herself.
- Honesty is an essential characteristic of a compassionate person. She is not scared, to be truthful.
- Listening is one of her most outstanding skills. She shows empathy and makes sure that she understands the actual message.
- She is not scared of showing her feelings.
- A compassionate person always treats others with respect.
- She does not judge another person because she knows that nobody is perfect.
- Compassionate people are kind and friendly.
You will agree that a compassionate person is much more than being empathetic or kind, or honest. She has a combination of various positive characteristics.
But, despite having these characteristics, she may have compassion only for specific recipients. So, who could a recipient of these deeds be? What inspires compassion?
Beneficiaries of compassion
It may be easy to be compassionate towards our family and friends. But compassion can also be extended to strangers and other living beings. Many organizations depend on the contribution of people to help war-stricken Ukraine. In the same way, animal rescue centers rely on donations to help suffering animals. These contributions come from compassionate people who feel their suffering and want to help.
Why is compassion important?
Compassion is important. It fosters meaningful relationships and also improves your health and well-being. Lastly, it assists in practical problem-solving. It means you put your judgment aside, refuse to turn away and find a solution to challenging situations.
Now that we know more about compassion, you may wonder about the results of living with true compassion. So let’s look into the results.
The results of living with true compassion
Living with compassion has many benefits that were proven by research. Here are some of the results:
- Compassionate persons are likely to be happier
- It relates to increased wellbeing
- Social connection between adults and children is promoted by compassion
- When clinicians and doctors express compassion and understanding, it lowers the anxiety of their patients
- Compassionate parenting improves the parent-child relationship
- Compassion in classrooms relates to better learning
- Compassion-focussed therapy is a promising approach for people who expresses high self-criticism
- When colleagues treat each other with compassion and kindness, it results in more job satisfaction and enthusiasm.
But let us look at the benefits of self-compassion.
Perhaps you are judgemental about yourself. Sometimes you may fall prey to self-criticism. It is where self-compassion may serve you well. The following are the benefits of self-compassion:
- Self-compassion reduces the severity of PTSD
- Optimism and self-compassion benefits people that are vulnerable to depression
- It reduces burnout
- Self-compassion acts as a buffer against the harmful impact of stress
- It is linked to general wellbeing
- It helps you to age in a more positive way
- Self-compassion may even help to reduce smoking!
Perhaps you tend to judge and criticize yourself or the people around you. In the words of Rachael Joy Scott, “Compassion is the greatest form of love humans have to offer”. To show compassion is to show love. And that makes the world a better place.
You can also learn to be more compassionate. See “9 Easy ways to become more compassionate.”
Perhaps you agree with the statements in the article, or you may have an example of the astonishing results of living with true compassion. Please share your thoughts with us. We all need hope!