compassion: to feel concern and sympathy for another’s suffering, while wishing we could alleviate their pain.
First, will we ourselves benefit by becoming more compassionate?
On the surface it could be argued ‘no’. After all, to feel compassion hurts. It’s uncomfortable. Whereas, to ‘not care’ means we don’t have to feel uncomfortable.
That may be true, but being able to feel compassion means we can find it easier to satisfy our deep need to belong. That’s because to have compassion is to truly see the fears, hurt and pain in another being, and that’s is a big reminder to us that we are not alone. In other words, our compassion connects us. When I am on the Ladder of Knowledge at Speakers’ Corner, I often say that just two things exist: ‘You, and everything else.’ A big part of bridging that gulf is to feel connected with others, whether it be with another sentient being, or with humanity itself. Or, with the universe itself. Or am I over-reaching?
Whatever the case, if we have the capacity to feel compassion, we also have the capacity to feel connected. That means: to be a compassionate person will benefit us.
So, should we foster it?
No. To make the choice, ‘From now on I will be a compassionate person,’ would be naive. We can’t choose to feel an emotion in the same way that we can choose to get a tattoo.
Of course, we can foster compassion, so that in the long run we become a compassionate person. But we have to work at it. From what I gather, fostering compassion requires time, diligence, and lots of thought and meditation. Most of us are not prepared to spend the time and effort making that life choice happen.
We can, of course, choose to act compassionately.
‘Be kind to someone you love. Then to people you know. Then to people you don’t know. Then to people you don’t like!’
We might spare the life of a fly by opening the door to let it fly outside. Or, we might act charitably, or give someone our time. But to do that we have to already be inclined to do those things. If someone doesn’t give a hoot about flies it’s unlikely they’re going to change their behaviour simply because someone advised them to ‘foster compassion’.
In short, I can’t see the benefit of ‘choosing to foster compassion’, and I certainly can’t see the benefit of telling someone else to ‘foster compassion’.
So, what can we do if we want to reap the rewards of being a compassionate person?
We can focus on significantly improving our communication skills. Why? Because when we have the skills to fully hear a person, and fully see them, we begin to drop our judgments of them and we begin to connect with them. It’s then we become compassionate.
As suggested above, the only reason we benefit by becoming compassionate is because we enhance our ability to connect with people and satisfy our deep need to belong. Improving our communication skills will do just that. Gaining compassion will be a helpful byproduct.
How do we improve our communication skills?
Much of this book is about just that.
Here are some other happiness myths:
– The positive thinking myth. We are often told that we need to look on the bright side if we want to be happy. We need to see the glass half full. But is that helpful advice?
– Myth: we need money to be happy. Surely we need money to be happy, don’t we? Without it we would be in dire straits. So, why is it a myth?
– Myth: to be happy we need to be kind. Countless times we are told that becoming a kind person will make us happier. Why isn’t that true?
– Myth: We are happier with only a few possessions. Will having fewer possessions make us feel happier? How does that work?
– Myth: We need to suffer before we can be happy. Helen Keller once said: ‘The hilltops would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.’ Is she right?
– Myth: We need to reach our full potential. The life coaches offer to help us become better people, yet in another breath tell us to accept ourselves for who we are. What’s going on?
– Myth: With wisdom comes happiness. Time and again we see in the movies a strong correlation between wisdom and happiness. Do we need to be wise to be happy?
– Myth: We need close relationships to be happy. It’s the biggest, most common myth about happiness of them all. Nearly everyone says it. Yet, it’s not true.
– Myth: We need good health to be happy. That seems obvious, doesn’t it? After all, we won’t be happy suffering the black plague. But does good health bring core happiness?
– Myth: We can choose to be happy. This is one of the most pernicious myths going around. Of course we can’t choose to be happy!
– Myth: Happiness comes from having low expectations. Don’t expect much and you won’t be disappointed, goes the saying. But does that equal happiness? Of course not.