by ECWA Editorial Board | Toward the late 1970s, very different cultures and nations around the world took a turn to religious fundamentalism, which has occasionally been attributed to “Spirit”. Most people then are believed to be compassionate towards each other or groups of people. (video: The Compassionate Father – Open Bible Stories (#23) by DistantShoresMedia. Image: Compassion in action: an 18th-century Italian depiction of the Parable of the Good Samaritan – Wikicommons)
When one hears of the word compassion, the first thing that comes to mind is Pope John Paul II, the Great or The Dalai Lama or Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela. Compassion as we all know it seems as a distant, altruistic ideal cultivated by saints, or as an unrealistic response of the naively kind-hearted. Seeing compassion in this way, we lose out on experiencing the transformative potential of one of our most neglected inner resources.
Dr. Lorne Ladner in his book, “The Lost Art of Compassion: Discovering the Practice of Happiness in the Meeting of Buddhism and Psychology”, rescues compassion from this marginalized view, showing how its practical application in our life can be a powerful force in achieving happiness. Using Tibetan Buddhism and Western psychology as the framework, Ladner shows how exercising compassion can help us build an unshakeable happiness in life.
Some will say compassion is how to live life as a true human being while others will say compassion in short is going out of our way to make sure others are fine physically, mentally, or emotionally. Compassion is also often regarded as been sensitive to the feelings of others such as fairness, justice, interdependence and its application understood as a sound judgment. There is also an aspect of equal dimension, such that an individual’s compassion is often given a property of “depth“, “vigor“, or “passion“. Compassion in general involves “feeling for another” and is a precursor to empathy, the “feeling as another” capacity for better person-centered acts of active compassion.
The compassion process is highly related to identifying with the other person because sympathizing with others is possible among people from all works of life and have been demonstrated in various cultures around the world. Toward the late 1970s, very different cultures and nations around the world took a turn to religious fundamentalism, which has occasionally been attributed to “Spirit“. Most people then are believed to be compassionate towards each other or groups of people.
On the other hand, a complete absence of compassion may require ignoring or disapproving identification with other people or groups of people. Earlier studies show the relationship between interpersonal violence and cruelty which leads to indifference. This concept has been illustrated throughout history: The Holocaust, Genocide, European colonization of the Americas, etc. The seemingly essential step in these atrocities could be the definition of the victims as “not human” or “not us.” The atrocities committed throughout human history have only been relieved through the presence of compassion.
For compassion to take place, people must feel that troubles that evoke their feelings of compassion are serious, the understanding that sufferers’ troubles are not self-inflicted, and ability to picture oneself with the same problems in a non-blaming and non-shaming manner.
In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA in October 2006, Jorge Moll and Jordan Grafman showed that both pure monetary rewards and charitable donations activated the mesolimbic reward pathway, a primitive part of the brain that usually responds to food and sex. However, when volunteers generously placed the interests of others before their own by making charitable donations, another brain circuit was selectively activated: the subgenual cortex/septal region. These structures are intimately related to social attachment and bonding in other species. Altruism, the experiment suggested, was not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable (Lockwood et all, 2016). One brain region, the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex/basal forebrain, contributes to learning altruistic behavior, especially in those with trait empathy. Vedantam in 2007 also demonstrated a connection between giving to charity and the promotion of social bonding.
Most scientists believe that the desire to be helpful is not compassion, but it does suggest that compassion is similar to other emotions by motivating behaviors to reduce the tension brought on by the emotion. Physicians generally identify their central duties as the responsibility to put the patient’s interests first, including the duty not to harm, deliver proper care, and maintain confidentiality. Compassion is seen in each of those duties because of its direct relation to the recognition and treatment of suffering. Physicians who use compassion understand the effects of sickness and suffering on human behavior. Compassion may be closely related to love and the emotions evoked in both. This is illustrated by the relationship between patients and physicians in medical institutions. The relationship between suffering patients and their caregivers provides evidence that compassion is a social emotion, which is highly related to the closeness between individuals.
Individuals with a higher responsibility to empathize with others may be at risk for “compassion fatigue” or stress, which is related to professionals and individuals who spend a significant amount of time responding to information related to suffering, (Figley 1995). However, in 2015, Singer and Ricard suggests that it is the lack of suitable distress tolerance which gets people fatigued in compassion related events. Research suggests that practice of nonjudgmental compassion may prevent fatigue and burnout.
Self-compassion has been shown to have a positive effect on subjective happiness, optimism, wisdom, curiosity, agreeableness, and extroversion. Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer demonstrated there are three levels of activities that thwart self-compassion and they are self-criticism, self-isolation and self-absorption which they equate to fight, flight and freeze responses. It is identified that people who lack life skill equanimity that is akin with distress tolerance are prone to such spontaneous responses. Certain activities may increase feelings of and readiness to practice self-compassion; some of these activities include creating a loving-kindness ritual, practicing empathy, practice random acts of warmth and goodwill.
The virtue of compassion to all living beings according to Gandhi and others, is a central concept in Hindu philosophy. The Dalai Lama on the other hand said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” God is spoken of as the “Father of compassion” and the “God of all comfort,” in 2 Corinthians 1:3–7 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.” Jesus embodies for Christians, the very essence of compassion and relational care. Christ challenges Christians to forsake their own desires and to act compassionately towards others, particularly those in need or distress. Jesus demonstrated compassion to all who society had condemned such as the tax collectors, liars, prostitutes and criminals, by saying “just because you received a loaf of bread, does not mean you were more conscientious about it, or more caring about your fellow man.” A good Muslim is to commence each day, each prayer and each significant action by invoking Allah the Merciful and Compassionate, i.e., by reciting Bism-i-llah a-Rahman-i-Rahim. The womb and family ties are characterized by compassion and named after the exalted attribute of Allah “Al-Rahim” (The Compassionate).
The act of compassion comes through empathy which is characterized by actions. The simple act of showing compassion or self-compassion can make a big difference in other people and even your own life. To get started, you can start by smiling at someone today or show kindness to someone by helping them in any way or praise and encourage someone. To be compassionate, you also have to respect their privacy and protect their dignity by not gossiping about them and keeping your conversation private. We can also be compassionate through our volunteer effort and most of all consider how others will feel through your spoken and unspoken words.
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