How Do We Get Compassion to Stay?

Often in the midst of natural disasters and emergency situations, we hit pause on our normal, trivial complaints and give thanks that the damage spared “us” while feeling worry and sympathy for “them,” those left in the wake. 

Sometimes our guilt from emerging unscathed leads to temporary connection and generosity in our fellow man’s time of need, but how do we get this compassion to stay? 

When we place ourselves in the shoes of another, the encompassing emotions overwhelm us, and all feelings of separateness and otherness begin to fade away. 

At some point in life, the degrees between ourselves and tragedy begin to lessen, and we’re thrust into the grips of real chaos, real worry, and a genuine concern for survival. 

Because life is inevitably unpredictable, because change is the only constant we truly experience, we’re all bound to confront the basic tenants of human existence: sadness, loss, injury, illness, homelessness, death. When in the throes of danger and unknown travesty, an acute awareness is brought to nearly every human being in the fray and in the know. 

We recognize how superfluous petty arguments were, how little differences of opinion matter in life-or-death situations, how unimportant luxury items and things are, and what really matters when the shit hits the fan is safety, shelter, nourishment, and love. 

Do first responders ask those stranded in a flood about their political beliefs, religious affiliation, socioeconomic status, sexual preference, or their opinions on other divisive issues? Of course not. 

Their mission is to save the lives of fellow human beings in harm's way. Period. 

And so when we meander about our days and find ourselves irritated by those different from us, when we complain about the banality of our existence, and when we criticize ourselves or others based on meaningless topics and superficial realities, we’ve once again lost perspective. 

We are all smart enough to keep it. 

The natural instinct that kicks in when real danger and emergency arises is the very state we need to inhabit on a more regular basis. 

It's not a sense of worry or panic, but rather the sincere hope and compassion toward life, wanting the same security, health and happiness for others that we want for ourselves, not simply those we’ve deemed worthy.  

Our perception of the world is a direct reflection of our reality within. When we feel kind, compassionate, understanding, open, loving and positive, that is precisely how the world will respond to us. 

When we complain, hate, negate or disparage, we reveal more about ourselves than our mere opinions of others. Our natural state is love, we simply need to return to it. 

While each of us experience life through a unique lens and perspective, we all can resonate with the ache of a broken heart, with the gut-wrenching certainty of loss. We all experience love and pain, and despite our current status in the world, none of us deserves to feel one more than the other. We all are capable of finding gratitude amongst the most dire circumstances and we all have something substantial to give those truly in need. 

Contrary to societal beliefs, sincere generosity has little to do with money. Smile, hug, compliment, encourage another. Whether stranger or loved one, choosing to make someone's day better has a bright ripple effect beyond what the naked eye can see. 

Giving what we think we deserve will satisfy both parties, because what we give to others we give to ourselves. 

We can access true perspective when recognizing how many are suffering worse than we are, but even beyond circumstance and comparison, we are still breathing and perceiving, and isn’t that enough to unchain us from the tantalizing grip of apathy or discontent? I am breathing, so are you. We have more in common that really matters than any insignificant differences can overpower. 

Whenever I need perspective, I take a big beautiful breath, I celebrate the chance to get it right next time, and that I’m gifted the chance to breathe at all. 


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