One day, many years ago, in a department store in a shopping mall, my 50-something mother slipped and fell straight down on her rear end with a “whoops!” and a thud.
It was almost comical. There she was sitting on the floor but her legs and arms were still up in the air for a frozen moment– and my thought at the time was– How clumsy. Is she going to get up soon?
And after another long second, she was back up on her feet, wincing a little, saying something I didn’t quite catch.
And it occurred to me a few moments later that I had not immediately walked over to help her up. I had not asked if she was okay. I was only concerned about how soon we could get back to shopping, of if we were somehow “creating a scene” for other shoppers.
I was not seeing her in her full humanity– more like a distraction from my otherwise unarticulated agenda. In other words, I had no compassion for her in those moments.
I realized this later and felt guilty. Even later than that, I wondered why I had felt no compassion. I wasn’t angry or irritated– with her or anyone else– I wasn’t sleep deprived. I’d felt perfectly fine– in other words– there didn’t seem to be any excuse for not being compassionate for my own mother.
I’d read that babies are naturally compassionate toward other babies & their care givers. So, what happens along the way to change that?
For some of us, compassion has always come easy and it is a strength we use in moderation. Others of us suffer from “compassion fatigue” and find ourselves becoming more uncaring than we’d like. And still others of us confuse self-compassion with self-pity and then wonder why we aren’t more compassionate with others.
And other than feeling “not guilty” when someone else is suffering and we act compassionately, there are plenty of benefits to feeling and acting with compassion in the right measure.
In our series on Compassion, we’ll explore those benefits, which include better health & well-being, and we’ll see how it can increase your own happiness.
For our purposes, compassion isn’t just about wanting to “relieve the suffering of others,” it’s also about kindness– to strangers, to those close to us, and even to ourselves. –Daniel