Over the years, I've heard people offer a wide variety of theories and assumptions about what it means to be compassionate. Especially now, in today's political and social climate, there have been abundance of conversations about ascension, with "compassion" being a word often used in some spiritual circles. But today, I'm going to talk about what compassion DOES NOT mean, because there seems to be some confusion about it. Perhaps this will help clarify the meaning of compassion and will keep you from falling into the trap of pseudo-compassion.
I was scrolling through some official definitions of compassion so I could have one to post here. Some I liked, and some...well, let's just say they won't be in this blog.
After some research, I found one that I liked the most. This explanation is provided by https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/
Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.
Compassion is not the same as empathy or altruism, though the concepts are related. While empathy refers more generally to our ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person, compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help. Altruism, in turn, is the kind, selfless behavior often prompted by feelings of compassion, though one can feel compassion without acting on it, and altruism isn’t always motivated by compassion.
I like this explanation more than the others, as the previous definitions I read, included words like "pity" or "sympathy" and I just didn't feel like those words do the true meaning of compassion any justice.
In this period of heightened fear, paranoia and sadness, some people have used the word compassion as a way to prove their point or as a way to justify certain behaviors. I think it's interesting, because compassion has become a word that's often used but misunderstood. Now, let's dive a little deeper
Compassion is Not:
Coddling- Many people assume that having compassion for someone means making excuses for their behavior and keeping them from assuming responsibility. This has nothing to do with compassion. When exercising compassion for someone, we are able to see a person's humanity. We are able to put ourselves in their situation and see how if we were in the same position, we, as another human being, might have done the same thing. In this, we are able to recognize that we are all human, that we all make mistakes and that none of us are above anyone. So we are not condoning any destructive behavior but merely softening our gaze towards the person. From here, we can understand someone's position, honor them and yet give them space to grow and heal in their own time.
Convincing someone of your personal truth- As the definition of compassion explains, compassion includes the desire to relieve another's suffering. However, I will go a step further and state that compassion does not include forcing someone to accept your opinion as their own in order to cease their suffering. As a matter of fact, this approach actually has nothing to do with wanting to relieve another's suffering, and more to do with wanting to relieve our own. This is especially true if someone assumes that just because someone else doesn't have their perspective, they must be "suffering." It is our own suffering we desire to minimize when we attempt to change someone's mind, mainly because our ego doesn't like that someone can live differently than us and still be content. The best thing you can do if you want to give compassionately is to understand that everyone is living their own unique lives. People will find happiness in different conditions and it's not up to us to convince anyone that our way of life will bring them more happiness. This approach typically does not work anyway and people will perceive you as being aggressive rather than compassionate. Furthermore, if someone is not receptive to being helped, it would actually be more compassionate to take a step back than to force help onto them.
Attachment to helping others- This is an important one, especially for lightworkers. Many people who have a desire to be of service feel it is their duty to relieve the world's suffering. As a result, they become emotionally burdened with the responsibility of needing to eradicate the suffering in the world. When they cannot do what they feel they are "meant" to do, they may fall into a state of hopelessness and despair. In reality, there is no way that one person can rid the entire world of suffering. It's too great a burden for anyone to bear and it is no one's duty to do it all. When anyone becomes too attached to helping others, it becomes less about the person who needs help and more about the person giving the help. It becomes more about fulfilling a role, upholding a title and maintaining one's sense of responsibility instead of giving from the heart. Becoming too attached to helping others can drain our energy as we rush around giving haphazardly and neglecting our own needs. How can we truly help anyone in this state? In addition, people have a tendency to cling to the outcome of their service instead of allowing it to blossom and be applied in a way that best serves everyone. Contrary to what some may believe, in order to truly have compassion and help anyone, it must come from a place of detachment. If we are too emotionally invested in our service, we lose ourselves and therefore can't help anyone. We need to allow ourselves to give from our hearts so our compassion can flow from within. Whatever flows from within is cultivated by immersing ourselves in it first. From there, it spreads to those around us. So whatever compassion we give to others comes from the overflow of compassion we have for ourselves. This is how we begin to embody compassion.
So if we have compassion within our hearts, not only do we desire to relieve another's suffering but we also honor the humanity of each individual and respect their personal choices. We have trust in the unfoldment of each person's journey and therefore remain detached from their process. A compassionate heart begins from within and therefore does not make personal suffering a requirement in order to serve of others. Compassion does not seek to smother or enable harmful behaviors and knows when to retreat so others can truly learn what they need to grow. So if I could add anything to the definition of compassion that I listed above, it would be, "Seeing the humanity in oneself and another and therefore honoring all expressions of humanity as valid."
Someone can have a desire to relieve suffering but first their approach must be pure.