Reach out and touch…with permission

Under the hashtag #1000Speak, one thousand-plus writers will publish their thoughts on compassion today. The Facebook group 1000 Voices for Compassion has brought them together after Yvonne Spence put out a call:

How cool would it be if we could get 1000 bloggers on the same day to write posts about compassion, kindness, support, caring for others, non-judgement, etc.?

Here are my thoughts:

Compassion is a topic Hubby and I discuss often and at length as we struggle to make it an integral part of our life.

Our most recent debate ended in agreement that true compassion (which involves action to alleviate suffering) is based on empathy (personally identifying – as much as possible – with the suffering of others) rather than on pity (recognizing the suffering of others, but from an emotional distance – often one of superiority). And that action to alleviate suffering is only possible or effective when those suffering welcome intervention.

Clunky, fluid, difficult-to-pin-down definition, but for now, it makes sense to us – and to me. While Hubby and I are joined at the hip (as Nana said when we were teenagers), we don’t always agree. But when we don’t, we talk things through to figure out why and usually end up with a modified version of the situation based on our respective input. That’s one of the reasons we’ve been married for almost 37 years.

That’s active compassion in our relationship.

Compassion is more difficult, though, when it comes to strangers who are different, or even worse – to those who have harmed us in some way. How do we extend compassion to someone who is in difficult straits due to repeated poor life decisions? Who is suffering, but really doesn’t want help? Who is hurting, but chooses a questionable way out time and time again?

Those are the times when we struggle to be compassionate. To realize that sometimes the support of compassion is simply to be there to catch someone when they fall. To hold them when they cry. To feed them when they’re hungry. A smile, a hug, a cup of hot coffee on a frigid winter day – sometimes that can be enough: to recognize humanity’s suffering and to respond to it in a caring way.

Those are feelings and experiences we can all empathize with, even when the causes vary. And those are the times we can reach out with compassion. It’s not always easy, but it’s always the right thing to do.

Compassion is something we can count on. Even if we face economic problems and our fortunes decline, we can still share our compassion with our fellow human beings. National and global economies are subject to many ups and downs, but through them all we can retain a compassionate attitude that will carry us through. ~ Dalai Lama 012315

However, as much as I admire and respect the Dalai Lama, a second quote – from him or from the many others who profess the same sentiment – does not ring true for me:

It seems that for some people the idea of compassion entails a complete disregard for or even a sacrifice of their own interests. This is not the case. In fact, you first of all have to have a wish to be happy yourself – if you don’t love yourself like that, how can you love others? ~ Dalai Lama 020315

From my perspective, such a mindset adds yet another layer of pain and regret to my life. To declare that because I don’t “have a wish to be happy [my]self,” I’m not capable of showing compassion for others is erroneous on its face. I feel for others and seek to alleviate their pain, much more than I ever do for myself. This is based on an egregious lack of self-worth stemming from childhood trauma I can’t shed.

But I don’t let that trauma keep me from reaching out to help others. It’s the only value I have to share with the world, and I continue to do so – gladly.

4 responses to “Reach out and touch…with permission”

  1. My writing often stems from that desire to understand and empathize, to find the things I can do to help.


  2. Well said! And I agree, compassion is not pity – it is being able to see where another is coming from and acting in a caring manner as a result.


  3. Love it, Cyndi! If I may add an aspect to what the quote from the Dalai Lama that you disagreed with, Maharishi said something similar. He said, “all love is directed toward the self.” Now, on the face of it, that sounds very self-serving and self-congratulatory. What I think is meant, though, is that as we love, and show compassion, we become more of the people we want to be and those values we see as positive grow within us. Maharishi said that in the context of a woman describing exactly what the Dalai Lama was talking about–she was acting like a door mat and then resenting others taking advantage of her. However you look at it, compassion is, as you say, never the wrong choice. Ever. We all need it, and we all need to show it!


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