Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Gift of Compassion

Quote of the month:
Compassion is the ultimate and most meaningful embodiment 
of emotional maturity. 
It is through compassion that a person achieves 
the highest peak and deepest reach in his or her search for self-fulfillment.
Arthur Jersild

It's that time of year again... the stores are busy.... everyone seems to be buying. 'Tis the season for gift-giving.  This year, in addition to the gifts we buy and wrap, I'd like to suggest some other simple gifts that do not require a box or paper.  Before anyone calls me Scrooge, I am not anti-gift-in-a-box...  my simple suggestion this month is to consider that there may be some other alternatives to store bought gifts for the holidays.  Some of the "gifts" we can offer to others include...  love, encouragement, joy and the gift of your time. 

The "gift" I want to focus on this month, is compassion.  The quote above suggests that compassion is the peak of emotional maturity and of self-fulfillment.  I won't suggest that it is always easy.... but the reward can be great. 

This also overlaps with two of The Four Agreements  - Agreement #2 - Don't take anything personally and agreement #3 - Don't make assumptions.

How does this look in real life?  Say you are in line at the check out in the store.  The clerk barely acknowledges you and only spouts the price when she is finished, tosses you the receipt and moves on to the next customer without so much as a thank you or a good bye. 

The typical person might first, make the assumption that they had done something that upset the clerk and then secondly, take that personally and think something like she did not like them.  They might think they had done something to anger her.... or for some reason, she decided to be mean to them.  Following Agreement #3.... we are told not to make these type of assumptions and then following Agreement #2.... we are told to not take any of it personally.  How can that be possible you say... it is directed at me... how can it not be personal?!  Would you be rude back?  Would you grab the receipt without a thank you?  Would you stomp off without any niceties? 

What if I then told you that the woman's husband just walked out on her and left her with 3 little kids to raise on her own.  Only the week before, she found out that she had developed a life threatening disease.  Would you feel a little bit differently?  Would you consider how someone going through all that might feel and that they might not be in the best mood? 

If so, you may be feeling compassion for her..... the dictionary defines it as..... a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

In real life terms... it simply means that you understand how she might feel.  What if, instead, you dug down deep, put your own hurt feelings aside and smiled at her and said, "Thank you!"  It doesn't cost you anything.  It doesn't hurt you in any way.... what if you are the only person who was nice to her that day... maybe partly her own doing.... but even so.... one smile, one nice person may make a difference to her.   AND it just might even make you feel GOOD!  

Compassion involves a 2-step process of sorts.  The first step is to step OUT of your own feeling about the situation.  The second step is to step IN to what the other person may be experiencing or feeling.  I'll briefly caution not to get lost IN their feeling but allow yourself to objectively understand or appreciate what the other person might be experiencing.  Ask yourself how you might feel in that situation.  How would you wish for someone to react to you or treat you in that situation?  

Very often we do not know the "back story" of the other person.  I will go so far as to say nearly ANYONE who is behaving "badly" (I'll define "badly" rather loosely here) is in some way feeling badly about themselves, feeling down or upset about something.  This includes your parents, your kids and especially your significant other!!!!!!!!!!!  How about giving the gift of compassion this year to those people who you are closest to?  You can get them a wrapped gift in a box too if you like.... but try experimenting with compassion now and then.... see how it works!  Maybe you will get a gift back as well! 

One last suggestion.... make sure to include yourself on the list of people to give compassion to!

I'll leave you with one last list of things that either don't need much money or don't have to go in a box.... this list is borrowed, with permission from Zen Habits...
  • Do other things with family, such as caroling, baking, watching It’s a Wonderful Life, playing football outside. 
  • Volunteer as a family at a homeless shelter.
  • Ask people to donate to your favorite charity in lieu of gifts.
  • Make meaningful gifts.
  • Do a gift swap where you put a valued possession (that you already own) into the swap.
  • Bake gifts.
  • Have an experience instead of giving material goods: do something fun together, go to the beach or a lake.
As always, I'd love to hear your comments or questions.  You can comment or ask a question by clicking on the "comment" button below.
Have a happy holiday... and until next month.....
Keep it simple!

1 comment:

Penelope said...

Sometimes I think the Universe has a sense of humor! This post has recently been re-posted on another site, so I had recently re-read and thought about the things in this post. Today the Universe gave me an opportunity to practice....

I was walking through a parking lot towards a store in a strip mall. A truck drove up to drop someone off. A large man got out, YELLING at the driver. He slammed the door and stomped off, but then turned around to continue yelling and swinging his fists.

Although coming from different angles, it became obvious that we were headed towards the same door of the same store... AND that we would arrive very close to each other. It was also obvious that I had witnessed his outburst.

Ok Penelope, I thought to myself, opportunity here.... (Did I mention I was a little bit scared?!) Arriving at the door just before he did, I opened and held the door for him. He said, "Hello Ma'am, how are you?"

For a moment my ego questions "Ma'am?" Really? But quickly.... jumped out of my own story, nodded and replied, "Good, how are you?" As soon as I said it, I realized this was somewhat of a stupid question given what had just happened... and he didn't answer.

BUT, I thought to myself, I treated this man with respect, even when he might not have deserved it... I held the door and spoke to him. I could not bring myself to make eye contact with him (out of fear. I could have done that better - but overall felt it was a successful test of the Universe challenging me to practice what I had written here on this blog... and so I felt compelled to share it with you!

Any other stories out there?