Standing at the Corner of Empathy and Compassion

Following up on yesterday’s post where I experienced Street Corner Compassion. It got me thinking…

Why compassion?

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”                                                                               Dalai Lama

I see Street Corner Compassion as an expression(s) of human kindness through commonplace actions in an ordinary setting.

Daniel Goleman, in an interview in Tricycle, reminds us that we are wired for empathy. He describes compassion as a the highest step in a natural emotional sequence that begins with paying attention, moves into empathy and culminates in compassion.

Street Corner Compassion is simple and easy.

Street corner compassion can be opening the door for a woman struggling with a stroller, bending down to help someone pick up spilled contents of a wallet, or asking the driver to wait for someone running for the bus. It might even look suspiciously like “good manners” if only politeness always grew out of empathy instead of feeling like disembodied rules of behavior handed down from authorities.

If Street Corner Compassion is so easy, why don’t we give and receive it more often?

First of all, you already give and receive compassion. I do. We all do. Sometimes we don’t even notice we’ve acted compassionately or we just don’t stop to name it. There are some things, though, that get in the way of more practice:

  • We’re busy. We tend to rush everywhere and when we’re not rushing we tend to be paying attention to the stream of thoughts running through our heads while looking at tweets, texts and FB. We forget to pause, to look in then out. Oh yeah, that.
  • Feeling someone’s pain (or elation, for that matter) can be overwhelming.
  • Without some skills to manage the overwhelm, we react by either hardening against out sensations, shutting them out or pushing them aside, or, we give up to apathy and confusion, “I don’t know where to start, there’s no way I can help everyone who needs it.”
  • We have expectations that true compassion ought to look different than the everyday kind, like it’s only good if it’s on the scale of Mother Teresa, or that terrific kid who delivers coats to the homeless all winter long.
  • We think we have to respond in a way that another part of us feels is more than we can handle – now what?

Since Street Corner Compassion makes a palpable difference for our collective well-being, it might be a good idea to learn some skills for managing overwhelm while we also learn to:

1. Notice/pay attention   2. Open our hearts to the experience of others  3. Consider actions that are life affirming for us and the other person/people.

Begin now. One of the best ways to start is with some kind of Mindfulness practice like yoga, meditation, or Focusing.

Iolanda Tanase, 8th Grade, appleton School

Iolanda Tanase, 8th Grade, Appleton School

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