by Annette Bridges. ©2009. All rights reserved.

Again and again we read in the Bible that Jesus was “moved with compassion.” And his compassion was always followed by his healing the sick and feeding the hungry. He even taught about the need for compassion in many of the parables and stories he told to his followers.

In fact, compassion is considered by all of the major religious traditions as among the greatest of virtues.

More than empathy, compassion is defined as the feeling that gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another’s suffering. Mercy and tenderness are among its synonyms while cruelty and indifference are its opposite.

I can’t help but wonder what a little compassion could do for our troubled and weary world — in negotiations, interrogations, debates and discussions. As we see the suffering of others and our hearts ache for their pain, do we wish we could help in some way? Making a difference in someone’s life does not necessarily require lots of money or time.

I can certainly attest that the compassionate understanding and kindness shown to me when I have failed or made mistakes, encouraged my growth and eventual successes throughout my life. Our words can have a powerful impact on friend or foe.

It’s helpful to remember that we are all in the same boat sharing this human experience. We are never alone. And others have undoubtedly walked in our shoes before. We’re not the only ones who have made the very same mistake or used bad judgment.

Yet have you found it easy to show compassion toward a friend or family member — or even a stranger — who’s having a tough time but you get angry or frustrated with yourself when your own life falls short of your ideals?

Perhaps you need a big dose of self-compassion.

Things will not always go the way we want them to. We need to learn to give the same comfort and care to ourselves that we would give to others. Showing compassion and understanding when confronted with personal failings will help us put our mistakes into a larger life perspective — a more balanced, objective point of view — and encourage our progress.

But let’s be clear about what self-compassion is not.

Self-compassion is not self-pity! It serves no good purpose to get lost in our emotional drama or immerse ourselves into a problem.

Self-compassion is not self-indulgence! There is nothing beneficial about indulging in unhealthy rewards or habits.

And self-compassion is not self-condemnation! Judging and criticizing ourselves for inadequacies or shortcomings keeps our attention and focus on the negative or buried in the past.

With compassion for ourselves when we have missteps, we inspire and prompt wiser steps that move us forward and closer to reaching our potential. We are better equipped and able to keep a clear eye on our goals.

A baby learning to walk doesn’t think twice about attempting to walk again after she falls down. And that baby will likely fall many times before she masters walking. But she doesn’t stop with walking. After she learns to walk, she tries running, then skipping, and then jumping. Before walking, she scooted, crawled and probably even climbed.

The idea is that we keep moving, learning, progressing, mastering new skills, gaining new insights and knowledge along the way. Yes, we may fall sometimes. It may take us a while to learn and get where we want to go. But we never stop trying.

Compassion will keep us moving onward and forward. So give yourself a hug when you need one. And pat yourself on the back and say everything will be okay. Be like the baby who doesn’t think twice about her fall. Keep on keeping on.

So the next time you’re feeling down on yourself, try a little compassion.