What Compassion Means


Compassion is something that I’ve been pondering about lately. On the web, there are many definitions, and in the Buddhist sense, compassion is when we notice and empathise with someone who is in distress and strive to lessen his pain. As I grow older, I have come to realise that this is a quality that people have in varying degrees, and I would certainly be a better person if I could behave in a more compassionate way towards others. Perhaps if I could cultivate more of this quality, it would help atone in part for my youthful mistakes, for when I was younger, I could be unkind, judgmental and downright mean on occasion.

So what does compassion mean to me today?

Compassion to me is…

1. Holding my tongue when someone says something mean and I have the urge to hurt her back with personal insults. This requires maturity and understanding that most of the time, it’s about the other person, not me. I remind myself that the person is probably having a tough time and is transferring her rage outwards. In these instances, I’d bite my tongue because if I had lashed out, I would have felt bad afterward, in addition to already feeling awful about the mean remark. Better just to have one person upset than two.

2. Helping someone to see the bright side of things when they are feeling miserable. Most of us are working adults and are already struggling to have work-life balance. It takes effort, empathy and genuine concern for someone to take the time to listen and offer a different perspective.

3. Saying a kind word to someone who needs it, even when they don’t verbalise their need. Many times, people cannot find support when in distress, or maybe don’t even realise that they are in need of encouragement. As a friend/colleague/family member, I try to take the effort to notice when someone is feeling down. Sometimes, just a kind word can lift their mood tremendously. While I might not be able to provide solutions to their problems per se, what I can do for them is to show support and concern, which makes them feel less alone.

4. Showing gratitude to people who are, in their own eyes, just doing their job. This also means respecting others, even when the balance of power is tipped in my favour.

5. Making someone feel like their work is worth something. All of us want to know that our hard work is appreciated. In my job, I work with a design and copywriting firm for our corporate magazine, and when I get praise from the management, I take the effort to let them know that their work is appreciated. This goes a long way towards fostering stronger relationships and motivating them to do even better. I have also found that because of the appreciation and respect shown, they are more willing to go the extra mile, such as accommodating last minute changes.

6. Not pushing someone beyond what they are capable of. There’s a fine line between pushing them to excel, to go further than what they think they can do, versus making them question their own competency and in the process, damage their self-esteem.

7. Allowing others to open up at their own pace. In the early stages of trying to forge a friendship, I do more than my fair share of talking if I sense that the other person is uncomfortable revealing his thoughts. I let them share if they want to, and prod a little to show interest when appropriate, but try never to force them to reveal more than what is comfortable for them.

8. Allowing myself to be vulnerable to people whom I don’t know that well, including colleagues. This requires a great leap of faith, because doing this means that there is a risk that the other party would think I’m weak or use the information to her advantage in the workplace.

9. Having a forgiving spirit. I try not to judge others harshly for their mistakes or perceived shortcomings. This has another benefit – in being less judgmental of others, I have learnt to be kind to myself too.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a start. All of us will have our own definitions of what being compassionate means, and the first step is simply to pay attention to what others are feeling, and the rest will follow naturally.