Compassion is a muscle that we sometimes forget to workout, especially in times of stress. But our compassion helps us get along better with others and grow closer to each other.
Becoming a more compassionate person leads to better encounters with others, a better ability to forgive, and will help us live a more positive life.
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So how can you be more compassionate?
Put yourself in their shoes.
This feels like something we learn as 8-year-olds in school, but sometimes we need to be reminded of the foundations. We forget that the people surrounding us have their own thoughts and feelings just like us. And wrapping our minds around that concept can be tricky – so put yourself there instead.
How would you feel if you were the clerk standing behind the desk at the airport trying to appease a hundred cranky, yelling passengers?
How would you feel if you were the person who just rear-ended your car?
How would you feel if you were the friend who kept getting blown off?
How would you feel if you were the spouse whose calls for attention were repeatedly rejected?
Maybe you would feel differently than other people in those situations, but your feelings are likely based on your values, and your values should ultimately be helping you decide what actions you want and don’t want to take.
Play sleuth and theorize other sides of the story.
Wow, that lady at the store was a total b****.
Yeesh, my friend is so grumpy today.
Before you decide to hate these people for life, maybe take a second to consider where they might be coming from. Was the lady at the store flustered because she had 4 kids clamouring for her attention? Is your friend grumpy because something bad happened at work and they’re venting?
Even some more serious and long-term actions can be understood through compassion: childhood bullies often bully because they’re unhappy, people don’t leave abusive relationships because that’s all they’ve known.
That’s not to say that all behaviour should be excused even though we are compassionate about it. One of my favourite phrases comes from a podcast I like – “Empathy does not mean endorsement.” We can understand each other’s behaviour to the best of our abilities and still deem that behaviour unacceptable.
Recognize that nobody is perfect.
None of us are perfect little angels without flaws and mistakes. But that’s not what makes us good or bad or compassionate or cruel. What makes us good or bad is our attempts to do better and be better. This is where a good dose of forgiveness and the ability to let things go are important.
Think back on a time when you needed compassion.
Take a second to think back to a time where you made a mistake, or said something you regret, or acted rashly. Think back to a time that makes you cringe a little bit today.
Do you hope that the people around you during that time would forgive you or at least look upon you with a little bit of compassion? Do you hope that they don’t judge your entire being and worth as a person on that one bad moment?
If you have moments you look back on with the hope that you would have been treated with compassion, other people do, too.
Learn the value of our differences.
Many of our arguments and discrepancies with other people will stem from the fact that we’re all different – we have different values, different skills, different wants and needs. And this is a good thing. Our differences mean we contribute differently to society, they mean we have different strengths, and they make life more interesting.
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Again, when taking all of these points into consideration, I’m of course not condoning negative or hurtful behaviour. I’m just challenging you to find the difference between the people who are truly doing bad and the people who made a mistake. I’m challenging you to get outside of your head and think like the people around you. I’m challenging you to show compassion to not just your friends and family, but to strangers and people you disagree with. Give it a try!
Enjoy the journey!