Compassion, according to German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, is the “basis of morality.” If kindness is an act, compassion is an orientation. Love comes mostly from our hearts. Thoughtfulness and kindness come mostly from our heads. Compassion comes from a beautiful combination of the two, working in concert with each other.
We practice compassion because we care. Compassion often involves putting our own feelings aside and thinking more about the other person. When we practice compassion we are saying to the other person: “You really matter to me.” We care deeply about the other person, we do whatever we can to understand and support them.
We can’t always control what happens to us in life, but we can always control how we respond to what happens … “We have feelings, yes it’s true, we can think of what to do.” When we receive compassion from another person, we feel respected and honoured. We also feel that we are not alone. Without compassion, the world can be a harsh and lonely place. Compassion helps us feel understood and connected to others because of the experience and feelings that are common to us all. As the Dalai Lama said, “Compassion is a necessity, not a luxury. Without it, humanity cannot survive.”
In order to practice compassion we must develop and employ our observational skills. Our radar is in the “on” position. We notice when someone is in need. We are willing to act and offer our help freely. We are able to think about how the other person is feeling and let them know. We are able to look beyond their actions. Compassion allows us to consider the other person’s intentions.
It may be that, at times, we show our compassion by what we refrain from doing, as well as what we choose to do: the best action is to do nothing. Or we may show our compassion non-verbally in a gesture or expression that speaks volumes. Indeed, if we want to be a compassionate person we must ensure that our words and actions are consistent and fit well with each other; not only do we “talk the talk,” but we also “walk the walk.”
Junior School students wrote postcards (to people or animals) to who they wanted to show compassion, and reflected on how they could better show compassion in their lives.
“I should have more compassion for my sister. I should care more about how the things I say and do make her feel.”
“I will be more compassionate towards my family by helping more around the house.”
“Dear Terry Fox – I feel compassion towards the people that are suffering through cancer and I would like to share the same care to them as you do.”
“Dear Clara – I plan to be more compassionate to you by playing what you want more.”
“To the Philippines – I will donate food and money to help you from the tsunami you had recently.”
“To Mr. Squirrel – I feel compassionate to you because I fed you nuts when you were hurt with a broken leg.”
“I will show compassion to the people who are fighting for human rights, like to educate people about how they should stand up for them like girls and boys getting separated.”
“I feel compassionate to Terry Fox, so I will try to donate money to stop cancer.”
“Dear Sydney – I will be more compassionate to you by taking you for more walks.”
“I will try to be more compassionate to my sister. I will be more compassionate by listening to her more.”
“Dear Sierra – I will have more compassion for your side of the room being messy.”