Compassion – Thinking Outside Ourselves

I have to admit, that sometimes my anxiety can lead me to be a bit oversensitive. An offhanded  remark can feel like a knife to my heart. Something as simple as a deep sigh from someone I love can lead me to wonder why they are disappointed in me.

Other times, something so big happens in my life, it feels like a bomb went off, blowing up my world. How do I forgive someone for causing my catastrophe?

compassion: Thinking Outside Ourselves

Compassion and Forgiveness Go Hand in Hand

As a Christian, compassion and forgiveness go hand in hand.  Ephesians 4:32 reads, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (NIV) As a child, and even as a young adult, I thought I understood the concept of forgiveness, but I was missing the compassion component.

Because I am extremely empathic (don’t even get me started on three-hanky movies), I  believed I was also compassionate. In reality, compassion and empathy are not exactly the same. The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, says “Compassion is not the same as empathy or altruism, though the concepts are related. While empathy refers more generally to our ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person, compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help.”

Once I understood the meaning of compassion, I started putting it to work. Did Art snap at me? Maybe I should ask him how his day was and see if there is anything I can do to ease his load. Am I hurt because a friend missed a phone call? As the saying goes, “the phone works both ways”. I can make that phone call and ask about her week.

It’s Not About the What, It’s About the Why

When  we realize that the other person’s actions are not about us, it becomes less about the what and more about the why. If we can determine the why, we can be more understanding about the what. And if we’re not caught up in our own hurt, we can prevent the situation from escalating and maybe even offer help to the other person, if needed.

Empathy and Compassion Don’t Trump Self Care

In the case of catastrophic acts, empathy and compassion don’t trump self care. While forgiveness is necessary for your own well being, you are not required to have a relationship with a toxic person who has no remorse. I don’t want to go into specifics here. Let me just say that while I have the tendency to overreact in small situations, I have also been known to under-react in disastrous situations. My fear of ending relationships caused me to accept abusive behavior for a long time. Compassion has enabled me to forgive and maintain relationships, from a distance, if necessary.

We Don’t Have to Agree in Order to Get Along

Once we learn how to use compassion towards those who hurt us, we can move on to show compassion in all our relationships.  Putting a human face on an issue has been proven to lead to compassion and understanding.

As an example, let’s look at the current political climate. Many of us, here in the U.S., have strong feelings, one way or the other, about the current administration.  Instead of deciding, generally, that all people who think differently from us are “idiots”,  let’s sit down with each other and discuss, either virtually or in person – not what we believe,  but why we believe it.

We won’t necessarily change the other person’s beliefs, but compassion and understanding can often lead to acceptance. We don’t have to agree in order to get along.

Thinking Outside Ourselves

“Putting a face on it” can also make us more compassionate to those we don’t know. Living down the street from a family who struggled to put food on the table, and later being in the same position ourselves, has led me to have immense compassion for those who struggle with food security.  I also have a heart for the elderly, starting at age 17 as a “friendly visitor” to home-bound seniors and assisting my church with nursing home visitations.

Since we have moved to Oregon, I have not yet found a church home or a volunteer opportunity. As preparation for this blog, I discovered our local resources, and will be calling tomorrow to see where my skills can best be used.

How do you show compassion to others?

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