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.
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.
During the month of August, we have talked to our students about the idea of charity, giving to those in need. Already we have discussed giving others our treasures including clothes, toys, or other things that have been valuable to us and we now can pass on to others for their use. We also discussed giving of our talent to organizations that have specific needs. If I had knowledge and skills in a specialty area or an interest in a particular cause that I can find a way to help out.
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Kids want to be helpful, and they are self-centered at the same time. Which one will you encourage?
[/feature_box]However, for young people with limited treasures and talent, it is important for them to learn the joy of helping others and they can do that with their time. A child need only be themselves to bring joy to a senior who does not get out very often. They might just sit with them and talk, play games or read to them. They may be able to offer help to organizations to cheer on or run with other children who have disabilities. Sharing themselves and their time by volunteering helps them to awaken the virtue of empathy and compassion.
The benefits of helping children learn about charity are many. There is an amazing thing about kids. They want to be helpful, and they are self-centered at the same time. Which one will you encourage as the parent or teacher? By setting the example and including them on our giving of time will feed the “I want to help” side. By giving them the opportunity to choose how they would like to help others we are slowing down the self-centered attitude that comes naturally and is encouraged by so much of the media today.
Giving our time, leading our children to do the same gives kids a powerful boost in self-esteem. They learn that it is not just about writing a check, but giving of themselves that can help make a difference in the community and world today.
Of all of our discussion about compassion the last week of discussions were the most telling for me. We talked about compassion for ourselves. More directly we talked about how negative self talk damages us, prevents us from moving forward and how it lasts a lifetime.
In a survey done of thousands of women only 4% thought they looked good or beautiful. Why? Most had something that they did not like about themselves. Their nose, ears, hips, weight, height, eyes, hair and on and on. Really? Is this just limited to women? I don’t think so.
While men may not have the courage to speak the words, their actions show that they have negative thoughts about themselves also. Why do you think we have all of those commercials in the media asking men about their strength, drive, energy? Why is it that young men and athletes are willing to risk long term harm of themselves to be stronger or heal faster with steroids. Is it not due to a lack of compassion for themselves – a fear of what others might think of them? A fear of being perceived as weak or of being replaced by someone else? They most likely have heard the criticism from others or at the very least witnessed another male being criticized for not “manning up”.
These fears of not being enough come from the messages all of us have been hearing since we were very young from parents, teachers, friends and soon from ourselves. Here is what we need to do – replace those negative messages with positive ones. Not false flattery – but rather praise for effort, for learning something new, for perseverance.
As a parent or teacher, before we speak words of criticism to our child or any child ask yourself – Is this something I would like to be said to me? Before you say those critical words to yourself, ask yourself – Would I say this to a 5 year old? All of that criticism we took in as a 5 year old and beyond, is haunting us as adults today. Replace it with positive affirmations and statements to each other and ourselves.