Anthony Cymerys is a barber. He’s 82 year old. Every Wednesday, he brings his chair, his clippers and a car battery to power the clippers to a local park in Hartford, CT. He gives haircuts to the homeless. He doesn’t charge them a penny. All they have to do is give him a hug.
Noodle* on this…
Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future. ~Nelson Mandela
Humans beings are born with the instinct for compassion. We are hard-wired to response to those in need. According to the Dacher Keltner at the University of California, Berkley, the compassionate instinct is a natural and automatic response that ensures survival. Unfortunately, in our complex, speed of technology world, we often lose touch with our compassionate instinct. As we rush home at the end of a hard day of work, it is easy to not see the homeless person at the edge of the parking lot or to become annoyed at the elderly person who takes so long to cross the street that we can’t make a “right turn on red” and speed on toward home.
What is Compassion?
The word compassion comes from the Latin words com (with) and pati (to suffer). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it means suffering together with another, participation in suffering; fellow-feeling, sympathy.
Compassion includes both empathy and altruism. Empathy involves mirroring the emotions of another person, while altruism is helping another with or without empathy. Compassion is sharing the emotions of another combined with a genuine desire to help the person that moves us to act. Researchers have discovered that compassion involves a biological process. Feeling compassion lowers the heart rate and stimulates the pituitary gland to produces oxytocin, which promotes social bonding. It stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain, also known as the reward circuit, which makes us happy.
The concept of compassion has exited throughout history and in all cultures. For example:
- In 500 BC, Lao Tzu wrote: I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.… (Tao te Ching, #67)
- Judaism teaches the 13 Attributes of Compassion (Mercy)
- The New Testament teaches the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25 – 37)
- The Quran emphasizes compassion and tells us that mercy or compassion is a divine attributes.
The Dalai Lama often speaks and writes about compassion, reminding us that Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.
How will compassion benefit me? Compassion benefits both the person who receives it and the person who gives it (you). In other words, there is an element of enlightened self-interest in showing compassion for others. As the Dalai Lama explains, if you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. It benefits you by:
- Stimulating your immune system and reducing stress.
- Helping you be more resilient and less fearful.
- Helping you build bonds with others, this in turn, increases tolerance.
- Reducing depression and anxiety by helping you focus on others, rather than dwelling on “me, myself and I”
- Increasing your ability to accurately identify the emotions of others, thus increasing your empathy.
- Making you more helpful, thus building connections with others.
How can I be more compassionate?
Although compassion is an instinct, it is also like a muscle. It must be exercised to be strong and healthy. Here are a few suggestions to help you strengthen your compassion muscle.
- Practice empathy. Think about a family member, friend, or co-worker who is sick or dealing with a problem. What might that person be feeling?
- Find common ground. When you see a person on the street; in the mall or a restaurant, find some common ground with that person. They may be wearing your favorite color or it may be something as simple as being the same gender or having the same hair color. The more we see others as like us, the easier it is to be compassionate.
- Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. How would you feel if you were the one suffering? How would you feel if the other person helped you relieve your suffering or solve your problem?
- Pay it forward. Regularly do a kind deed for another person just because with no expectation of reward or return. In 1916, Lily Hardy Hammond wrote, you don’t pay love back; you pay it forward. It is also known as doing random acts of kindness.
Another Tip: Learn and Practice the Loving Kindness Mediation. Don’t let the term meditation scare you. This is not the typical sitting meditation that takes years of practice to master. It is a simple brief mediation you can do at any time. It is so simple, a child in it in about five minutes. Basically, this mediation helps you develop an open, accepting attitude to all those you meet. According to psychologist Helen Wong and her associates, this meditation, help your develop kind and caring feeling toward others and empowers you to act compassionately. Visit the Greater Good Science Center to learn how to “strengthen you compassion muscle” in just five minutes a day.
Your Weekly Noodle Challenge…
Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion.~ Dalai Lama
I have written about my friend Suzanne in other posts. She carries a case of bottled water in her car and when she sees a homeless person, she stops and gives them a bottle or two. She told me, it only takes a few seconds to be kind and the look of gratitude on the person’s face is more than worth it. Compassion is addicting, in a good way.”
Do at least one compassionate thing this week – pay it forward. How did it make you feel? Share your experience with us in the Comments section below.
* To noodle: A verb meaning to mull over, think about, contemplate, ponder, puzzle over or brainstorm.
Anthony Cymerys image courtesy of pickchur.com and Dalai Lama image courtesy of Phayul.com