Having compassion for others has three steps, and they are the same three steps that are necessary for us to have for ourselves. It has been my learning that for us to have compassion for others begins with a willingness to have compassion for ourselves in a balanced manner. So first let’s look at the three steps to get to compassion for others and then see how we can apply them to ourselves.
The first step is noticing the suffering of the other person. We can see the frustration, disappointment, pain or difficulty they are going through at the moment. If we ignore the other person or refuse to look at what is happening to them, it is not possible to go to the next step.
The second phase is when our heart is moved to want to take action to care for and help the person who is suffering. The word compassion has its roots in “suffering with,” so it is an appreciation for what they are going through and our desire to take action to relieve that suffering. This second step also involves showing understanding and kindness to another person when mistakes are made. We are not harsh in our criticism.
The third step is a culmination of the first two when we take action needed to help in the way that we are able; recognizing that all of us have and will suffer in many ways in our lifetime. We would appreciate any kindness shown to us; therefore we offer our kind acts to those we see who are challenged at the moment.
Imagine now these three steps applied to ourselves. When we have a difficult time, have had a failure or disappointment, have not lived up to what we would like from ourselves first we recognize the way we are suffering, and we admit that we are human. Just like others, we are not going to have everything go our way all of the time. Then instead of criticizing ourselves with harsh words, thinking of ourselves as a failure or not able to accomplish the thing we failed in, we ask ourselves what virtue do we need at this time for this situation and act in a way to care for our needs.
The reality shared by all humans is that we have limitations and fall short of who we would like to be. The more we are willing to open ourselves to this reality instead of fighting against it, the more we will be able to feel compassion for ourselves.
The practice of compassion for ourselves along with the understanding that all humans need and appreciate being shown compassion will help us grow this virtue and bring all of us into a peaceful existence with each other.
Every person in the Universe has many things in common including our needs for food, shelter, love, attention, recognition, and happiness. Every human has suffered also, and there are many commonalities of those sufferings. They may be sickness, worries, loneliness, fears or sadness. When we recognize those feelings in another person if we react with understanding, we are practicing empathy. When we take action, we are practicing compassion.
How we take the rust off our sense of empathy and take action with compassion begins with understanding what all of us have in common.
- Step 1: “Just like me, this person is seeking happiness in his/her life.”
- Step 2: “Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life.”
- Step 3: “Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness, and despair.”
- Step 4: “Just like me, this person is seeking to fill his/her needs.”
- Step 5: “Just like me, this person is learning about life.”
When we have difficulty understanding what a person is feeling or how we may be able to help them, go through these steps and ask how they are in each area, what do they need that I can give to help them?
This practice will make it very clear what we can do for them and how we can help them clarify what they can do for themselves to relieve the suffering they are feeling. Sometimes just listening is the most compassionate action we can take that will provide the most healing.
How would you demonstrate compassion for a friend or loved one if they were sick, lonely, hurt, worried or fearful?
Compassion is about empathy for the suffering of another person, combined with taking action to ease their distress. It is not enough to see what someone is going through, though the ability to put ourselves in their shoes and trying to feel what they are feeling is the starting point for taking action.
With compassion, we eliminate our judgments of others, but rather ask ourselves How they may be suffering, then being perceptive with what we are seeing. Even children can learn to read facial expressions and body language to determine what a person may be feeling or dealing with. A simple question like, what’s happening, may open our eyes further and if we are willing to take the time to listen, without judgment.
Compassion is not just a fixed mindset either. If it is not a virtue that comes to us naturally, science has shown that compassion can be learned. It begins with mindful awareness of the feelings of others and focusing on their needs rather than comparing what challenges we are facing with the other person. Then we can grow our empathy and compassion with regularly asking ourselves questions like the following:
In the morning;
What am I grateful for today? How can I show kindness to someone today?
Then meditate, consider, or reflect on your blessings and how you can pay it forward.
In the evening reflect;
Think about the people you met in the day. Were you as kind as you set out to be this morning? How could you improve? What could you set your intention for tomorrow that would be compassionate?
With a practice in the morning and the evening, you are getting your day started and ended with the practice of compassion on your mind. If you do this practice with your children, it will help build this virtue within them. The practice of compassion brings happiness to the giver and receiver.
Facing challenges or things that are difficult for us come in conquering two areas of our being. Those two areas are our physiology and our psychology. If we can use these two areas of our being we will meet our failures, areas of stress and challenges with success.
In the area of physiology, the way we hold or carry our body affects whether we feel like we can overcome adversity. If we walk with our shoulders back, chin up and decide to smile and look forward with confidence we will feel more like we can meet our challenge head on. If we combine that way of carrying ourselves with speaking to ourselves with positive affirmations like, “I can do it.” we are far more likely to give it our best try.
I was in a class one time when we were invited to show our Superhero pose. It sounds silly, but standing with our legs apart a little, hands on our hips or in another manner to take up space we can begin to feel like a Superhero, ready to take on the challenges of the world.
In the area of psychology, the questions we ask ourselves tells our brain what direction to go. If we ask “Why” questions, we will get back all kinds of excuses and others to blame why we can’t do something. If we ask “How” questions, we will get back possible ways of overcoming our obstacle and then we can choose which one we are willing to try.
Physically and Mentally we can prepare ourselves to take on the world of adversity and stress with the right words and actions.
Each month we will discuss one life skill with all of our students. This month’s skill is Compassion. This life skill will be defined in the following ways for our students.
Young students: When you feel bad, sad or mad, I want to help you feel better!
Older students: The emotion we feel when others are suffering that makes us want to help them.
We are not your typical after school activity, in fact, we are an education center, working with students on physical self-defense skills while empowering families to bring out the best in our children and ourselves – through the martial arts. We believe every child has 52 gifts in them already. They only need to be taught how to grow and use them in their life. Balanced Life Skills serves parents, teachers, and students to reach that goal.
If you would like to see Joe Van Deuren and Balanced Life Skills at work, TRY CLASSES FOR FREE for 2 weeks.
Teaching our children to have resilience means that we must teach them how to solve problems, adversity, frustrations and overcome challenges. This is not done by telling them what to do, but rather helping them to clarify for themselves how to resolve the issue they are facing. How we do this is with questions and allowing them the time to think and express themselves.
Let’s look at a possible situation you may face with your child. If your child comes to you with a problem like someone is picking on them at school we may have a strong emotional response and want to know who what where when and even why. If we were to ask any of those questions first, we are in danger of cutting off the conversation immediately, as the child first wants us to know what and how they are feeling and they do not want you to jump in and solve the issue.
Here are the steps to follow to help them learn resilience.
- Identify the problem
- Brainstorm solutions
- Try one of the solutions
- Repeat until you have resolution.
- Ask them (Step 1) what is happening and how they are feeling about the problem
- Watch carefully and listen with patience. If they begin to cry, allow the tears, and you may ask, what the tears are about.
- You may (Step 2) ask them what they would like to do about the situation. Again give them time.
- Suggest that we might make a list of possible solutions or responses. There is no reaction to any of the ideas they come up with, even if they are far fetched, would bring adverse consequences or simply not going to work in your mind.
- Be patient. Encourage adding more to the list even if it is at a later time.
- Once you have a list of at least 5-10 options, then ask them what would happen if they did each of them. So if they said sometimes they would just like to hit them, only ask what the consequence would be and without emotion just write it down or have them write it down.
- Now you have two lists; one of the actions and one of the consequences.
- “Which one would you like to try first?” – Allow them to decide.
They have taken the first step in resilience.
Brainstorm possible solutions, choose one you would like to try.
(Step 3) is to try it. This process can be (Step 4) repeated with any of the possible actions listed. You may need to help them practice what they choose to do, and you will want to follow up with them and see how or if it worked or if they want to try something different. But you are now teaching them the basics of practicing resilience.
Follow the process:
- Identify the problem
- Brainstorm solutions
- Try one of the solutions
- Repeat until you have a resolution.
Coaching resilience is one of the most valuable gifts we can give to our child. Jumping in, rescuing or solving their problems does not in the long term help them face the world we live in.
There is much more we can do to build resilience in our children and to bring out the best in them and ourselves. If you are interested in attending a workshop or having a presentation at your school on this subject feel free to contact Joe Van Deuren for information.