We can only say that we are compassionate when we are: 1 –viscerally moved by someone else’s needs, 2 – make an effort to see the world through their eyes, and 3 – meet their needs on their terms.
- To not be viscerally moved means that we are rationalizing another’s life. No matter how well intentioned trying to understand another may be, if it remains outside of emotional engagement it is a defensive move designed to excuse us from recognizing the needs of the other and meeting those needs.
- To not make an effort to come to understand their lives from their standpoint means that we are imposing on them our standards which will fail because they are irrelevant. Even the best of intentions will not suffice to meet another’s needs if we are trying to run another’s life based on our own pre-judgements of what we are willing to give.
- To not work to meet their needs on their terms means to discriminate, impose, and condemn others through inaction. Action itself is the key component that elevates compassion over sympathy (feeling for others) and empathy (feeling with others). Without appropriate action there is no compassion.
It is common for parents in all cultures to be viscerally moved by the needs of their children and to meet their children’s needs on their children’s terms. As such compassion is a common, natural, human attribute. But as with every other natural capability coming to practise compassion as a skill can bring out qualities that may remain dormant if we do not.
Sadly it is quite possible to come to discriminate over who is worthy of our compassion and who is not. People can go through their entire adult lives and not be moved by another’s plight or remain inactive when it comes to meeting another’s needs. Nevertheless, we have all benefited from other’s compassion at various points in our own lives. As beneficiaries living compassionately is one of life’s greatest gifts that we can offer to others. Why be compassionate to others? Because that is what we each most want for ourselves, to be seen, to be understood, and to have our needs appropriately met.