I host a gathering at my house once a month as an activity of my non-profit organization HOPE, www.hopecommunity.us
(shameless plug), and this month's topic was love and compassion. We watched two TED talks about compassion and the difficulties or obstacles that stand in the way of choosing to be compassionate and then had community dialogue about each talk.
One of the talks was from Daniel Goleman. He stated that research shows we are born with a compassionate nature. We are actually hard wired in the brain for its expression. We can become desensitized to our own nature but the truth that we were all born with the desire to extend compassion gave me a lot of hope for humanity. With a little awareness we can regain our nature and begin to act from our true essence instead of the fear and overwhelm so prevalent in our lives. We can become as little children once again. Brave and wise little children.
A very interesting dialogue ensued that evening, revealing the frustrations and hopes I am sure we all experience when faced with human suffering. In the modern information age we hear about almost every act of injustice and tragedy in real time. And we don't just hear about it once, the news reporting and pictures and videos of an event are repeated over and over for days and even weeks. Being deluged with the suffering of others, both in our own communities and globally, even the idea of compassionate action can be overwhelming much less actually feeling like we can take meaningful action, especially if you are overwhelmed with your own suffering and struggles.
There has been enough research and evidence to support the benefits of compassion, both in thought and in action. Compassionate action helps solves problems, ameliorates suffering, and brings people together where before there was separation and misunderstanding. Compassion for others serves us with increased physical health, emotional and mental well-being, and healthier, balanced relationships.
And still, it can be hard to muster up the mental fortitude to make real efforts toward compassionate action.
Our community talk that night gave me some insight into some myths and misconceptions about compassion. Hopefully this insight will relieve some pressure you may experience about being compassionate and give you permission to take action no matter how small you might think it may be. To serve humanity with kindness is never small! Remember compassionate action can be as simple as a thought or a changed perspective.
"Compassionate action is too time consuming for my busy life."
Compassion doesn't have to take a lot of time. It can be as simple as making different purchase choices at the grocery store or mall. It can be as simple as extending love, encouragement, or appreciation to someone who is sad or discouraged. Or perhaps finding help to empower you to slow down and simplify your life is the compassion you need to extend to yourself!
Empowering yourself to discover and change those lifestyle habits that are creating a life that is overwhelming will help you live a more balanced life. Living a more balanced life frees up mental and physical energy. More mental and physical energy empowers you develop a peaceful mind. Peaceful minds create peaceful environments. Peaceful environments engender more effective problem solving and creativity. Effective problem solving and creativity can alleviate suffering. Alleviating suffering is compassionate!
"I don't have enough resources to take action."
To give commensurate with your resources means you give knowing that when you give from your available stores you are doing the best you can with the current resources available. There is never a time when you can't do or give something. I was very fortunate to grow up with a mother that taught me true generosity. She always made some kind of treat for new families moving into the neighborhood, usually cookies, banana bread, etc. But when things were really tight, she made biscuits. She said, "It doesn't take much flour to make a few biscuits. We will always have enough to give a little." She gave without fear. She gave what she could. And those warm homemade biscuits brought warmth, comfort, and the promise of new friendship to many people.
One man's mother had even less than my mother, took this concept one step further. When she made tortillas she took a pinch of flour and spread it in a circle around an ant hill outside and said, "We always have enough to share with God's creatures." She gave knowing where her source came from, she gave without fear, she gave commensurate with her ability to give. This man reported they never went without. They always had enough.
We can learn from these humble women. When you give from your true spiritual essence, without fear, you will always be a blessing and always be blessed!
"My small contribution can't possibly make a real difference."
While you may not have the task of ensuring coffee farmers in South America are getting a fair deal and are not being abused by drug cartels, or tackling the system that supports child slave labor in the coco fields of West Africa, it IS someone's task. And they need your support. They need the western world to vote with our monetary purchases for fair trade, for justice, and safe working conditions. These types of problems have many, many cogs that keep these current unjust systems in place. The biggest cog is our money. So your purchases and lifestyle choices are a LARGE part of the solution. You are being compassionate by supporting the work of those in the trenches and that is no small thing.
A smile and empathetic connection, encouragement, and appreciation could just save someone's life. Never underestimate the power of small kindnesses. Authentic connection and caring changes lives and there is no such thing as an insignificant or small life! Everyone is capable of creating beauty in the world if that capacity is nurtured. Be a nurturer of life!
"Compassionate action is just a large grand gesture that feeds the givers ego."
Hmmm maybe........Daniel Goleman mentioned he had noticed as he was doing his taxes and reviewing his charitable contributions for the year he had a thought about how pleased one of his friends would be with him that he had given to a specific organization. He realized he received a "narcissistic hit" about his giving. He used this awareness to reign in his ego and revisit the good his ability to give would do for others and minimize his own egoic need.
Most all of us feel good when doing something compassionate or charitable, who doesn't? I mean, why would it make us feel bad? We may feel bad if we couldn't do more or change a person's circumstances but why would we not feel good about ourselves? While we all probably know people that "get off" on their good deeds and make sure others know all about them, we may also know others that just feel good about doing something good. Chances are you also know people who do many good things for others and never talk about them.
The question is, why would a few braggadocios individuals prevent you from taking compassionate action if you had the opportunity? Just as Daniel Goleman used his awareness to reign in his own ego, you can too. But if this is still an issue for you, ask yourself a question: Can I do this and keep a balanced ego; not deflating my ego because I can't do more and not inflating my ego because I took action? If the answer is yes, don't let an opportunity to shine some light into the world pass you by because you are afraid of ego! Use the opportunity as an exercise to master your own ego!
Much Love to All!
Elizabeth J. Sabet