A few weeks ago, I received an email from Bloggers Unite, inviting me to write about the importance of compassion. “This is an event,” the email said, “created by social media geeks and bloggers.” Why not? I thought. Compassion is something there’s too little of in the world, despite the so-called age of Compassionate Conservatism introduced by George W. Bush, and espoused by some current members of congress. I’m a blogger, and I’m compassionate, aren’t I?
Maybe. A little research turned up a fact I hadn’t been aware of: compassion requires action. In other words, it’s not enough to simply feel sorry for someone, although compassion does arise from sympathy. In order to practice compassion, one must first feel a need to alleviate the suffering of another, and then do something about it. What a concept!
In my youth, in a quest to escape a pervasive feeling of sadness and despair, I became self-help book addict. I had lost my way, and was desperate for information on how to feel better. Happiness, I learned, is about looking outside oneself; it’s not, as we’ve come to believe, about the accolades brought by fame, the pursuit of wealth, or the power of purchasing.
I need only have looked to the Dalai Lama for advice on how to achieve happiness: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion,” he said, “If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
I’ve forgotten much of what I learned back then, but I vividly remember battling myself in my desire to improve. What about me? I thought. If I give something up, I won’t have it. Helping that unfortunate might make me uncomfortable. The enemies of compassion are selfishness and greed, which are, unfortunately, ubiquitous in the world. If we feed the poor, we reason, there’ll be less for us.
Alas, once I’d climbed out of the abyss of despair, I lost my compulsion for self-improvement. The self-help books are gone from my shelves these days, and perhaps, along with many in the world, I’m only compassionate when it’s easy, when I have nothing to lose.
But I’m thinking again about compassion, looking for opportunities to be compassionate. You can too. Next time you’re feeling impatient, entitled, annoyed, try a little kindness. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how good it makes you feel. For a guide to cultivating compassion in your life, click here.