Friday, February 20, 2015

Eight Questions About Compassion. #1000Speak

When I decided to add my words to the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion campaign, it seemed it would be an easy article to write. Once I began, however, I realized compassion is more complicated than I thought.

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


  1. wonderful post - we are the only species in this universe that are taught to be humans - isn't that something - and about a dog; your dog loves you more than he loves himself - perhaps because we are salty (wink) or we provide for them,whatever it is; I strive to be the person my dog thinks I am. :)

    1. That is a good goal, Marisa ... I am going to strive for that too!

  2. I've been up since 4 am reading these posts and sharing but refused to go to bed until I got yours. It didn't show up in my emails as usual so I came looking for it. It was well worth it. You are one of the most compassionate people I know!

    1. Rena- you flatter me! I would say the same thing about you, when it comes to compassion, and I loved your post. What a wonderful flood of kindness within the blogging world (and beyond!) that the #1000Speak campaign has been!

  3. Lots of good answers to all those questions, Susan! It is only fitting that the first acts of compassion that I thought of that have been done for me, were done by you! And, I was more than happy that I was able to help you out when you broke your leg!

  4. Kindness and compassion are two of the things that are blatantly missing in today's world. There are definitely signs of it missing when people pass (or won't pass) laws that affect so many of the people who need help. There are so many acts of cruelty that sometimes they seem to outweigh the acts of compassion. Maybe it's just that we hear more about them today. The old golden rule still applies in my mind...treat others as you would have them treat you. If everyone remembered that, the world would be a wonderful place, wouldn't it? One thing I know about you, Susan, is that you are always kind and compassionate. Great blog! I wish the whole world would read it!

    1. Thanks Lynn - your words here mean a lot to me! And I agree - improvements would be huge, if we would all follow the golden rule, all the time!

  5. Wow great thought provoking questions and great conversation starts indeed. Thanks for share. I will be investing time on these questions over the weekend indeed :)

    1. I'd love it if you would come back and share your thoughts here Mari!

  6. I totally agree with #7. It can be very overwhelming for me!
    And I love to read about babies and pets being compassionate, or showing tendencies. I do think society can be less compassionate to issues than they deserve, but lately I think it's more that people feel overwhelmed. The way I do. When it's a very local issue, people will help in a pinch. When it's more national or global, people seem to think they can't help the same way.
    How people react to their family members, neighbors, townsfolk, and more is really telling!

    1. I agree Tamara - and I loved your compassion post!

  7. Susan, in the short time I've known you, your compassion shows through in everything you do, so you were the perfect person to write about this subject. Compassion is such a key component to making the world a better place, starting with those closest to us and moving out from there. This is so well written, and you ask some great questions!

    1. Has it only been a short time, Lana? We met when our blogs were new, almost a year ago ... yet in some ways it seems much longer! I think that is one of the reasons your blog interested me ... you provide many examples of what it means to be kind!

  8. So much good in the world today!
    I've always defined compassion as caring more about others than you do yourself. Love this post. Even went to the 'rancher' site and shed some tears for that family in their loss. Thank you for your voice today!

    1. Thanks for this comment Diane - I love your definition of compassion. I am way behind with reading your blog (not by choice, just circumstance!) - and I am looking forward to getting caught up today!

  9. More and more I see what a truly special person you are.
    Wonderful thought provoking questions Susan. I am reminded of the time my father-in-law tripped over some wood when he was renovating our basement. Apparently he fell to the floor with a resounding crash. Fergus, our black lab, ran to the open window in great concern. He tried to clamber in but the opening was to small. He sat at the window until my FIL got up and went outside to reassure him.

    1. Thanks Kelly. What a great lab - our animals are pretty amazing! I'm glad that your father-in-law was okay!


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