Try a little compassion

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.

Would you give up your seat?

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

Who wouldn’t be willing to give up their bus seat to a pregnant woman, the elderly or handicapped? Or who wouldn’t consider taking advantage of an airline offer of a free ticket to give up their seat on an oversold flight?

A few days ago, we heard the story of the helicopter copilot who unflinchingly gave up his seat to an injured pilot he was rescuing. His Apache helicopter had only two seats, one for himself and one for the pilot. After belting one injured pilot into his seat, he strapped the second injured pilot to the gun mount outside the helicopter on one side and then strapped himself to the other side of the helicopter.

Unflinching — showing a fearless determination in the face of danger or difficulty. One wonders whether this courageous soldier even thought twice about putting his own safety second to a comrade. I think not.

Joining the U.S. military today is totally voluntary. Americans freely choose to enlist for service, knowing the potential risks and sacrifices. So perhaps it should be no surprise that an individual who has made such a choice would also make the voluntary decision to give up his seat, even if it means putting himself in harm’s way.

This warrior’s unblinking and unshrinking willingness to give, in this instance, his seat, is one of the purest examples of volunteerism. His actions could be described by Paul’s words “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). God was surely smiling on this helicopter copilot’s selfless action.

Soldiers’ devotion of care to their comrades reminds me of how Jesus defined what it meant to be a neighbor with the famous parable frequently titled “The Good Samaritan.” A man traveled from Jerusalem to Jericho. Apparently, during his journey he was attacked by thieves who robbed and wounded him, leaving him half-dead on the side of the road. Other travelers saw this poor man on the side of the road and didn’t stop to help him. Then, along came a Samaritan who didn’t hesitate to stop and render aid. The Samaritan cared for his wounded neighbor in the same way soldiers care for not only their comrades but also anyone in need of their assistance. Both are role models for us all.

The story of the Samaritan takes on even greater significance when one understands that the wounded man whom the Samaritan stopped to help was socially and politically his enemy. I guess Jesus was trying to teach us that humanity’s bonds in brotherhood transcend social, racial, sexual, political and religious segmentations that we often adopt in our lives. Compassion is a universal moral code for behavior at all times.

Maybe we will not have the same opportunities as soldiers, firefighters or police officers, who willingly and often heroically give assistance to others. But heroism is about character that includes qualities we would all do well to embody and practice — courage, strength, perseverance, compassion, faith, hope, selflessness, tenderness, patience, willingness, unconditional love.

Heroism is about how we live our lives. Heroes don’t look for glory or praise, nor do they seek recognition for their actions. They expect nothing in return and ask for nothing in return. Heroes live lives of deep commitment, believing in the greater good for all.

Every day we have opportunities to be someone’s hero — to offer assistance, to listen, to help, to care. Perhaps we can all ask ourselves: “Am I willing to give up my seat?”