November 2, 2010

What is Compassion?

When my niece was a squirrely 5-year-old, we were crossing a busy street and I said to her, “This is a busy street, I want you to pay attention.” She stomped her foot in exasperation and said, “I have to look to the right, I have to look to the left, and now I have to pay attention! How can I do all that and cross the street too?”

She was right. The meaning of “look to the left” is clear, it needs no explanation. But “pay attention” doesn’t mean anything unless you know what it means.

What does compassion mean?

That’s why I like the Golden Rule, it’s meaning is clear — don’t do or think or feel anything towards another that you wouldn’t want someone to do or think or feel towards you. I get that.

But “compassion” is like “pay attention.” It doesn’t mean anything if you don’t know what it means. I never know what people mean when they mention compassion.

Do you have a working definition of compassion? Can you explain compassion to me in a way that is connected to the body (look to the left, look to the right), in a way that gives directions I can follow?

I suppose I could read some books, but I’d rather not. I learn better when someone tells me. Please share with me your definition of compassion. What does compassion look like in your life?

I’m serious. Write back and tell me what “compassion” means to you. Thank you.