“Our human compassion binds us to one another – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” – Nelson Mandela
After watching the news recently, two starkly different images came to mind. The first images were of physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals diligently and lovingly providing care to sick, contagious patients in West Africa. The next set of images were of a violent, extremist group – holding their assault rifles in the air while waving their flags, celebrating the epitome of hate and violence.
How can a single human race be so divided, with people fervently racing toward each end of the spectrum?
The answer is quite simple – human beings have a choice whether or not to show compassion and understanding toward others. When we show true compassion, we can make tremendously positive differences in the world. Where compassion and willingness to understand and others is absent, there is a sense of hurt and a longing for love and acceptance. This ultimately appears in a physical form of negativity, including hatred and violence.
As Gandhi once stated, we must be the change we wish to see in the world. If you’re going to start, start here and now with you…
Here are 7 ways that you can show more compassion toward others…
1. Accept disagreements and differing opinions.
The intricate diversity and differing beliefs of individuals is part of what makes our world a remarkable and interesting place. It’s almost comical to see two people argue over a simple difference of opinion. Debating viewpoints on a particular topic is intellectually healthy and can be quite enjoyable. However, there is a difference between becoming combative (verbally, sometimes physically) and debating.
As thinking creatures, we form opinions on a variety of issues. These opinions are a product of various factors – our environment, home life, upbringing, and intellectual and emotional experiences. Where there are people, there are different opinions. It’s an interesting thing that should be appreciated, not demonized.
Truly listening to others is a seemingly lost skill for many people today. When in a meeting sometime, notice how many people are swiping and typing away on their phones, looking out the window, or talking to someone else. It is incredibly disrespectful, not to mention discouraging to the person trying to convey their message.
To be compassionate means to not just hear, but to listen to others. Making it a point to look someone in their eyes and provide feedback throughout the conversation shows active listening, a tremendous skill to have and one that can show compassion.
3. Empathize with others.
“Put yourself in their shoes, look at the world through their eyes.” President Barack Obama made this statement in a speech regarding the continuing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, encouraging them to show empathy towards one another.
To empathize with someone does not necessarily mean to sympathize with them. It’s not quite as simple as “taking to heart” someone else’s circumstances. To empathize means to make the conscious attempt to trade places with the person (or people) in order to gain perspective. Often times, we can show true compassion by just being empathetic.
4. Volunteer for a greater purpose.
The biggest differences in our world are often made through groups of determined volunteers. Advocating and volunteering through the giving of yourself and your time is a special kind of compassion.
We can verbalize how much we support this cause or that cause, but it’s through our actions that real change materializes. In many ways, time is more precious than money. Regardless of our financial situation, we can make a determined effort to give back through donating our time and efforts towards a greater purpose.
5. Demonstrate acceptance.
To demonstrate acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree with someone, rather you accept someone out of respect for the dignity of that individual’s humanity. It means the simple recognition and appreciation for our differences.
One of the beautiful things about the United States, for instance, is the diversity of the population itself. Even today, the U.S. is the primary destination of immigrant citizens from around the world. In fact, most natural born citizens can trace their roots directly to a vast wave of immigration that happened between 1890 and 1919.
How was this possible? We were accepting of other people and welcomed them with open hearts and minds. We should continue to do the same as individuals.
“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures.” – Albert Einstein
6. Practice acts of kindness.
Practice doing something small each and every day to make someone else’s life better. These acts of kindness don’t require anything besides a willingness to act for the benefit of someone else.
If a daily practice is made of showing kindness, it will eventually become something that is done without much thought and effort. In fact, the satisfaction created by demonstrating these acts of kindness will encourage us to do so more often.
7. Commit to a morning ritual of gratitude.
Taking a small amount of time in the morning to appreciate life and what you’ve been given is a great springboard into practicing compassion throughout the day.
Here is a quote by the Dalai Lama on affirming gratitude and appreciation in the morning. Notice in his quote how he first emphasizes the importance of gratitude and appreciation for life and self-growth before using our energies and abilities to benefit others. In other words, compassion starts with appreciation, gratitude and self-love.
“Today I am fortunate to have woken up, I am alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”
What additional ways do you demonstrate compassion toward others? Add to the discussion below!