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Nuture Compassion

May 12, 2009

I just saw on the AP wire that the man who was run over in Connecticut by a hit-and-run driver has now passed away, nearly a year after his tragic accident.

For the AP story, visit: http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_OBIT_IGNORED_HIT_AND_RUN?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

I find this story particularly relevant as I was just writing a journalist about Compassion and how we can work to instill this in our young people.

I’ve often heard the phrase “Sow the Seeds of Compassion” — in fact, this is the motto of the Dalai Lama and was used extensively in his tour around this country last year. But, while the phrase is poetic enough, it’s not accurate.

You see, compassion — and it’s sister emotion “empathy” — are habitually innate. We are BORN with the underlying character traits of compassion and empathy already in us.  There are certainly exceptions — people with specific pathology or psychological/physiologic issues may lack empathy (notably people with personality disorders like anti-social personality disorder or narcissitic personal disorder, for example are known for their complete lack of empathy). But, generally speaking, we’re all born with it.  It’s what makes one crying baby in a nursery set all the other babies in the nursery to crying, too. “Hey, why is HE crying — there must be SOME reason.  We’d better cry too!”

Over time, we can become immune to that natural empathetic response.  Trauma can do it, bad life experiences can do it. Childhood abuse often does it. But I think we can also become desensitized by images that normally tug at our heartstrings, but we thankfully aren’t exposed to under normal circumstances.  How can we possibly view, night after night, broken children’s bodies in a bomb or war scene and NOT have that compassionate part of our brain cry — STOP!  Scar tissue builds when the heart can’t take any more.

We have to take and make opportunities to restore our natural feelings of compassion, kindness and empathy.  It’s not a matter of sowing as much as it is nuturing and tending.  Take a little time to do a kindness for someone else, particularly one who is hurting or in need.  No shortage of that these days, I’m sorry to say.

Give some clothes to a homeless shelter; serve in a soup kitchen.  Visit a hospice center or nursing home.  Reach out to someone who has lost a loved one.  The possibilities are endless, but the point is, “get out of yourself and see what good thing you can do for someone else.”  You make thing you have no time, no money…you’re too BUSY to worry about someone else. But, therein lies the problem — and the solution.

To make it relevant what you can do for someone else, ask yourself this question:  If it were me, would I want someone to take a moment out of their day to help me, to cheer me up, to show they cared?

Chances are, the answer is “yes” and so should your answer be.

Shame on us for letting an injured man lie on the street without anyone stepping in.  If you were lying there injured, wouldn’t YOU want someone to help? Or should we just capture it all on tape, and cluck our tongues on what a rude, crude and indifferent society we’ve all become. To Angel Torres and his family, we are sorry too many of us let you down.

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