Considering this topic, I ended up with more questions than answers. I am sharing them and my thoughts here, but I'm curious about other people's opinions. I hope you'll write some of your ideas and experiences with compassion in the comment section after reading this post.
An article published in the University of California, Berkley e-newletter Greater Good, states that compassion can be defined as: “the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another's suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.”
1. Can an infant be compassionate?
Babies may not be capable of being compassionate to others, but they are self-compassionate. They recognize their own sufferings, and cry as a way to obtain relief.
I have heard of twins born holding hands, and I know that some sets of twin newborns seem to be comforted by each other's presence. I wonder if these behaviors originate from concern for each other, a result of their own needs, or are they simply due to proximity?
2. Is a child born with a caring personality or is it learned? If so, how?
I remember compassion shown by both my children at an early age, perhaps nearly as soon as they could talk. I don't know if caring for others is an innate component of a child's personality, learned by example, or developed through a process of teaching and reinforcement?
My best guess is that small children have the ability to recognize that others can have feelings similar to theirs, and their compassion stems from treating others as they themselves would want to be treated.
3. Are some people more compassionate than others?
As a nurse, my feelings of compassion were a vital motivation for providing good care to my patients every day. I tend to be compassionate much of the time in my personal life as well. I wonder if the compassionate nature of many nurses is reinforced by the suffering they encounter daily, or is it simply the reason she/he became a nurse in the first place?
Do some people feel a greater degree of discomfort than others, when faced with suffering they perceive is being experienced?
4. Can compassion occur between humans and other species?
I think two examples may answer this:
During a long hike, our dog's paw became sore and bleeding. We placed an extra hiking sock on her foot to protect it, and my husband carried her 50 pounds down part of the trail, increasing his discomfort to relieve hers.
That same dog, rushed over and licked tears from my face, the day I sat surrounded by Halloween decorations - sobbing because I just realized my child who had moved away might never be home again during the time of year Halloween decorations are displayed. I'm pretty sure she was comforting me, not just craving salt!
5. Is society compassionate enough?
When we realize a beloved dog has no good days left, we may end her misery with euthanasia. Human lives are more complicated and therefore not often treated as kindly.
Poverty, hunger, mental illness, homelessness, human differences: these issues do not receive the compassion they deserve. Yet, sometimes humans as a community really do rise to the occasion. An example of this is the response to a recent Montana tragedy: “After rancher's death, help pours in for wife, 7 daughters.”
6. Is being compassionate ever a bad thing?
Sometimes I suspect my compassionate tendencies may be a fault.
I can be too quick to rush in and try to solve another person's problem. It is important to recognize when a person just wants someone to listen - to not give advice or fix whatever it is that is making them suffer.
My first tendency is often to reassure another person that everything will be okay - when perhaps that may not be the case. At times, this type of hope can be helpful, but I realize that offering it may be my way of making myself feel better, and it may not be what is best for that person at the time.
7. What is the most compassionate thing I have ever done?
I have been thinking about this for a while, and my honest answer is that I truly have no idea! I read somewhere that the recipient of an act of compassion is much more likely to remember it than the provider.
I suspect my most compassionate actions have been tied to my roles of nurse or mother. The following examples are typical of many people in these positions:
- Working a full shift without taking a food or bathroom break to ensure the comfort and safety of hospital patients.
- Working double shifts on Christmas, so a coworker won't have to miss being home with her small children.
- Staying up all night with a child who is sick or needs the comforting presence of a parent.
I told my son I was having difficulty deciding what my most compassionate act has ever been. He immediately replied with humor, “Giving birth to me!” While childbirth is hard, it is not an act of compassion, but a wonderful gift!
8. What is the most compassionate thing anyone has ever done for me?
Again, I do not have just one answer for this. What first came to mind, however, was something that happened when I was a freshman in college.
I had broken my leg, and was on crutches. It was the very beginning of my second semester of college, and it became evident that I was not mobile enough to benefit from remaining at school. My parents were overseas, and it was decided that I would fly to England to be with them.
I forget many of the details, but I remember that my twin sister left her campus several states away to travel (by bus, I think?) to mine. She spent several days packing up the belongings in my dorm room and offering me the emotional support that I so desperately needed at the time. Her actions were the true definition of compassion.I love the fact that over 1000 bloggers from around the globe are coming together today to speak about compassion. The world just feels a little kinder! You can read the words of others under the hashtag #1000Speak on various social media sites, such as Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
Can you answer the last two questions I asked myself? If we all make a commitment to being more aware of any compassion shown to us, and take advantage of opportunities to provide compassion, our world will become a kinder place.
Your turn! Do you agree with what I have said here? Please share your thoughts about compassion.
This post may be linked to one of the great link-up parties I follow and list on my blog. Check them out! #1000Speak