My blog post titled “Practice What I Preach” surprised me with an overwhelming response of love. Oddly enough, love was exactly what my broken heart needed to aid in my healing process. A friend told me the reason I took the situation of losing my horse so hard was because I have the gift of compassion. And due to that gift, I am aware. This awareness is not something I can just turn on and off. She said it is part of my DNA. Every gift comes with advantages and disadvantages. Through having an understanding on how to maneuver this gift, I can be effective in each situation I’m presented with. Hopefully, I have learned, or am in the processing of learning, how to be more effective with my gift of compassion.
An increasing number of scientific studies are telling us how compassion is related to many aspects of our wellbeing – healthy relationships, flexibility, how we deal with stress, including physical health and life expectancy. Compassionate people are able to benefit more from other’s kindness, are able to maintain their optimism even in the middle of adversity, and do not suffer from severe lonesomeness. Studies on young children and undergraduates show how individuals experience greater happiness when they are given a chance to buy things for others than asked to spend the money on them self. Some describe compassion as “the best kept secret of happiness.” Fortunately, studies also reveal that compassion and empathy are part of our basic makeup as human beings. We only need to nurture these qualities and allow it to be expressed in our lives.
Humans have recognized the importance of compassion for a long time. In fact, all major faiths eulogize its virtue and arguably compassion is at the root of the teachings of all faiths when it comes to living a good life. What is new is the appreciation of compassion’s role in our own personal happiness, and how we can relate to compassion not as a moral sanction but as an important basis of our own wellbeing.
So I pondered … if compassion is so good for us and if it is part of our natural disposition, how is that we do not give it more merit in our lives? From my experience, compassion also brings a lot of resistance and sometimes even fear! I have found that we are afraid if we are too kind and compassionate others will take advantage of us. We are afraid if we are too kind, for example to a friend or family member, that person might become too dependent on us.
In the idea of tough love, we often close ourselves off to people who are close to us so that we do not have to feel any pain. We are afraid that others might think we are soft or weak. We are afraid that we might be downtrodden if we allow ourselves to feel compassion for someone else’s problem. When we see other people’s kindness we suspect that there might be a hidden agenda. We are afraid to open ourselves up to other people’s kindness because we fear that we might become too vulnerable. We bring similar resistance when it comes to self-compassion as well. We fear that if we let ourselves be self-compassionate we might become a disappointment. In addition, there might also be a culturally acquired resistance to compassion. For example, because of the tendency to explain human behavior primarily in self-interest terms, many struggle with the idea of genuine compassion.
All these fears result from misunderstanding what compassion is and how it relates to fairness and our responsibility towards our self and others. That said, the fact remains that giving compassion is an important place in our everyday life. In our self-definition of who we are as a person (if we have taken the time to do the inner work and have a self-definition), and relating to ourselves and others and the world around us. From this, it is ultimately in our best interest. More compassion leads to greater happiness and more meaningful relationship with others. It also brings greater sense of purpose to our life.
Many scholars and researchers believe that compassion is the key to improving humans and animal’s lives and along with our relationships. However, recent current events have proven that people significantly lack when it comes to having compassion. If one is not capable of compassion for an innocent animal then surely that person is not capable of having compassion towards other human beings. And when we don’t have compassion for other living beings, we certainly do not have compassion for ourselves.
Dr. Marc Bekoff said it perfectly, “When people tell me they love animals and then harm or kill them, I tell them I’m glad they don’t love me.” I would venture to say that those who truly love animals have a much higher rate of compassion for themselves as well as others. So as you have read this blog, I hope you have a new awareness regarding compassion. And now that you have had a chance to ponder compassion, I want to know, “Are you afraid of compassion?”
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