What is Compassion?

The dictionary definition for the word “compassion” is a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. We tend to approach compassion only when we are feeling sorry for someone or sympathizing with their pain.

But what about the compassion we can show to each other on a day-to-day basis with the simple things we do as we go about our lives? Compassion can be biting our tongue when we really want to respond with a stinging comment to someone who is upsetting us. Compassion can be letting someone else with only a couple of items get ahead of us in line. Compassion can be stopping and letting another car out in front when they’ve been sitting and waiting in traffic. It can be using a gentle tone, instead of a stern one. It can be asking questions about someone else instead of talking all about our issues and our concerns.

The beauty of compassion is that we have the chance, throughout the day, to stop and be aware of the others around us. It requires us to become the “Interested Observer” and view what we are doing, and how we are interacting, with some detachment. We often just react and don’t realize the impact we are having on others. I find this when my kids say, “Stop yelling, Mom!” and then I start to yell that I am not yelling!!

At times we are preoccupied with our own needs. Think about how generous you are to other drivers when you are not in a hurry versus when you are running late for an appointment. Think about how you treat a person in a store when you don’t feel well or have had a long day, versus when you are doing “recreational shopping.” We view everything through our own lenses and our own experiences. But we have opportunities each day to just stop, and observe.

In hypnosis we teach the “STOP!” technique when someone is consistently thinking negative thoughts or falling into destructive patterns. If a client tends to use negative self-talk and finds it defeats them, I ask them to use an imaginary “STOP!” sign to interrupt the negative thoughts. Sometimes it can be helpful to just say it out loud. We can use this same technique with people around us. When I feel myself getting angry, or rushing, or wanting to cut someone off or feeling hurt by what they’ve said, I can “STOP!” my response and choose another one.

Compassion is all about making choices. It’s choosing to address someone respectfully and politely. It’s remembering that we all make mistakes and your mistakes are no worse than mine. It’s taking a little bit of time to show that I believe your life is as important as mine. It’s using every opportunity I am given throughout the day to stop, listen and make a choice to care about you as another human being.

See where you can insert some compassion throughout your week. It’s not about letting someone walk on you; it’s about standing up in a respectful and honest manner. It’s not about sacrificing what’s important to you, it’s about taking someone else’s concerns into consideration. It’s not about being “phony” – it’s about generally seeing someone else for who they are.