Celebrate compassion, even when it is a challenge.
Join us today as we try to flood the internet with a focus on compassion.
These concepts, at their surface, don’t seem very hard.
You try to be nice to other people.
You follow that golden rule.
It sounds like it should be simple. All things we learn in kindergarten, or preschool, or even earlier.
The reality, though, is that practicing compassion and kindness can be very difficult.
Yes, it can be easy to be kind and caring for those you love. Or for those who are polite and kind. People who practice compassion themselves, they’re easier to show compassion to.
But think about the times when you find yourself having to be even just polite — or civil — to someone who is unkind. I’m not talking extremes right now, just someone who is rude. Impolite. Mean.
Throughout my life I have had the opportunity to work with a great diversity of people. All different ages, races, creeds, orientations, genders, socio-economic classes, education levels… lots of different people, with very different lives, in different moments of those lives.
Sometimes I have the opportunity to develop some sort of relationship with the people I worked with, people I was providing some sort of care for. And sometimes they were nothing more than a passing customer, someone I have to interact with for a few brief moments before they move on with their lives. Some have been kind, polite, friendly, and loving, and others have been mean, abrupt, condescending, and a challenge. The one thing common with all of them — I had to, at the very least, be polite.
Kindness is a step further than politeness. To me, kindness is more active, while politeness can be a relatively passive behavior. To be polite to that rude customer at the counter is to ring up their items, thank them for shopping with you, and move on. Kindness would be to do all that, and go a step further. Perhaps as simple as wishing them a sincere “Have a nice day.” Or maybe going above and beyond in some way, pointing their attention to a discount on an item they had overlooked, or something like that.
In my mind compassion is taking things even a step further. It is not just being polite and courteous, it is not saying or doing nice things for someone. It’s something more. While the dictionary may define Compassion using the term “pity,” I tend to think of it as more of a form of empathy. To have compassion is to act towards someone with some attempt at understanding what is going on in their life.
I find myself thinking about one of the jobs I had, where it was part of my responsibility to take a bunch of ladies from a senior day-center out for a weekly trip. Usually this involved going somewhere that they could do shopping, like a thrift store, and then lunch. There was a group that went on a pretty regular basis, and as I drove them and spent time with them on those outings, and throughout the week, over a period of months, I began to see some dynamics that reminded me of middle school.
You know, one group, usually spearheaded by one or two individuals, decided — for whatever reason – that they don’t like one individual. They begin to engage in behavior that is intended to upset and exclude that individual. It’s bullying, plain and simple.
A few of these women were not easy to even be polite to. When it was clear I was not going to bend policy on their behalf, especially not to the detriment of the woman they were “freezing out,” they began to try to push my buttons. To bully me.
I have had more than a little experience with being the victim of bullying and learned long ago that certain types are best dealt with by simply ignoring the behavior, not giving them anything to fuel it, not responding, not showing them that it’s impacting you at all — as I did with this. It was my job, I was doing my job, and, while I agreed with the policies that didn’t even matter. They were the policies of the organization, and the rules I was supposed to be following. And I didn’t see that I was going to be able to change the behavior of an 85 year old who had clearly been cultivating this personality and way of acting in the world for quite a long time.
But I had to be polite. It helped me in my work to be kind… and I wanted to be compassionate. That is where the challenge comes in. How to be compassionate to someone who is just not a nice person. Without compromising your own integrity, self-worth, and values.
It is not easy.
I don’t have an answer. In this case I tried to put each instance of bullying and meanness in a little container, to separate it out from other things. One day she was downright cruel, and the next she was asking for prayers at the weekly bible-study that was offered. With my interest in religion and theology I had been invited to join them in the group, and I would often sit and listen. It was a FAR more conservative approach than I have, but always interesting to hear. And there was always a moments of prayers for people. So when this woman asked for prayers, I tried my hardest to put aside the cruelty she had dished out, to send her positive and healing thoughts.
It is easy to talk about being compassionate. To be saddened by horrible things happening in the world, and wish that people could interact with one another with more kindness and compassion. We can talk about stepping beyond differences to learn more about the similarities we share. But need to recognize that sometimes it can be a lot harder to actually do those things.
The best way, I think, to push yourself to start living into really being compassionate to others. Starting by trying it on the small scale. Maybe start with kindness, with a smile to someone who being rude. We all have to begin somewhere.
Remember that everyone has things happening in their lives that we don’t know about. Beneath it all we are people. People who engage with the world, who have feelings that get hurt, and senses of self-worth that may not be all we project them to be.
Push yourself to be compassionate to others, and yourself.
Care about the people around you, no matter how hard that may be sometimes. Show compassion and care however you can — even if all you can muster is a warm thought or a smile.
How have you been able to reach out with compassion?
Today is also Celebrate the Small Things Friday. Hosted by Lexa Cain, L.G. Keltner of Writing Off the Edge, and Katie of The Cyborg Mom, Celebrate the Small Things is a time when we all take a moment to celebrate something good from our week. It can be small, it can be big, just something to look back on the week and celebrate!
And I celebrate having watched this movement grow over the past while, from a very small facebook group and handful of bloggers to the amazing amount of participants that are going to be exploring Compassion today.