Virginia Alice, author of "HONOR ONE ANOTHER: The ABCs of Embracing Our Spirit Within," writes about social media, wellness, and writing.
How Can We Be More Compassionate?
Isn’t it wonderful when we’re going about our everyday business, and someone opens a door for us? Or someone lets us cut in line at the grocery store? Or, better yet, someone at the Starbucks drive-thru pays it forward (or is that backwards)?
It feels good, doesn’t it? It makes our day. We smile just a little bit bigger. It puts a skip in our step as we continue our day. And we are even inspired to pass it on to at least one more person.
So, how can we get more of that, whatever it is, in our days?
What is Compassion?
When you think about it, that one simple action is coming from a place of kindness or compassion.
Compassion is the sympathetic concern for someone’s – mostly loved ones but also friends of friends or even strangers – trials, sufferings, or misfortunes. To have compassion means we care about others, what they are going through, and if they can overcome their situations, or perhaps they could use a helping hand or listening ear.
To be compassionate is to be a loving and kind person – either by nature or by learned and practiced behavior. We take time to listen to others and what they are going through. We are also willing to help. We look for ways to be helpful to those who are struggling to make ends meet, finish a project, or reach a goal.
We can’t heal the world today but we can begin with a voice of compassion, a heart of love, an act of kindness.
— Mary Davis
How Can We Learn to be Compassionate?
Being shy most of my life, I admired others who were always caring of others. I watched them carefully, hoping to learn ways in which I could also be compassionate to the people I knew or would meet in my life.
I also chose to read books that shared ways readers could develop compassion. I learned that one of the main ways for a person to be compassionate for others is to first be compassionate of oneself. Over time, I was able to become more confident in caring for others.
Some like to provide meals for others when they are unable to care for themselves. To this day, and maybe because I'm a writer, one of my all-time favorite ways to let someone know I care about them is to send a card or a letter. My paternal grandmother was a sender of cards and letters, and I looked to her for direction in how to express my care and concern through the written word.
Busy World, Busy Lives
Today, life is full of rushing here and there. It is an effort for many of us to text or email, let alone write a letter or send a simple card. We may have children. We may hold down two jobs. We may even volunteer – which is a way of showing our compassion, depending on the type of volunteerism. So, our lives can be very full.
Despite many people being naturally compassionate, and others wanting to be more compassionate, we might find ourselves too tired at the end of our day to show compassion even to our own self. Of course, this is a sign, perhaps, that it's time to slow down and breathe.
Having compassion starts and ends with having compassion for all those unwanted parts of ourselves.
— Pema Chodron
Slowing Down to Breathe
I have found the best way to show compassion to anyone – needed or not – is to pause. Look at what needs to be done and what can be let go of in our busy lives. This frees up time and energy for other things.
Busy or not, slowing down to breathe is important in showing compassion to others. Once rested, we can be more open and caring at work, in our wider community, and even in our own home.
Leading by Example
Ultimately, the best way for anyone to be compassionate or more caring is by viewing it firsthand. When I was a child, I would see momma, aunts, and grandmothers showing compassion to others. Whether it was tending to someone who was ill or cooking food to deliver to their home, it was my first curiosity on how to show my compassion – not just feel it.
As I grew older, I volunteered my time in ways that seemed fitting for my nature. Often, this was in babysitting or teaching classes somewhere. I wasn’t certified but my creative nature allowed me to be excited about inspiring young people to work together with crafts while waiting for their parents.
When I was older, I volunteered in nursing homes – helping elderly who could no longer see or write. I would hand write personal letters dictated to me and address envelopes to their loved ones. And I would read books of interest to those who could no longer read for themselves.
I didn't get the cooking gene; but if needed, I can also make and deliver a simple, hot meal to anyone not able to cook for themselves.
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
— Dalai Lama
Are You Naturally Compassionate?
When a person is either naturally compassionate or has learned in their younger years how to be caring, it can be difficult to see how others struggle with what should be so easy. But the struggle is real. The question then lies in how can we help others to be more caring and compassionate?
First, we can look around our environment. We can be watchful for those who seem uncertain of themselves. We can be at the ready to lead them by asking for their help in reaching out to someone else. The tasks can be simple such as inviting them to help serve food at a local homeless shelter to helping us take a meal to a shut-in, or even to play bingo at a nearby nursing home.
Where To Begin?
I love the quote by Stephen Levine, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. There is nothing to do but be.” We're not talking about peace here but compassion, but the sentiment is still the same. Letting any action begin with me is what I support as effective when encouraging compassion in others and being more compassionate myself.
By being an example ourselves, we can create a caring world of compassion in which others check on their loved ones – whether elderly relatives, co-workers, or neighbors who have no one to check on them. It's the least we can do as we go about our daily lives and claim humanity as ours.
People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
— Maya Angelou
Always Pay It Forward
And, of course, there's paying it forward – whether it's in a way to show appreciation for what cannot be paid backward, like helping someone with a utility bill or providing a student scholarship. Something as simple as paying for someone’s coffee can be the difference that takes a person from having a bad day to having a happier one.
Being more compassionate isn't always easy. It's certainly something we can get better at. And it's definitely something that is always positive.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Virginia Alice Crawford