It takes effort to be compassionate. I would label myself as someone who cares deeply about others, but I struggle to be compassionate almost every day. It’s easy to go through the motions of kindness: to show some concern, respond with a caring phrase, do someone a quick favor. I’ve learned how to do that on autopilot.
The real challenge of compassion involves asking myself, “Am I willing to step outside of my comfortable inner world long enough to venture into someone else’s?” The other person’s world might be unpredictable, unsettling, or even painful. The journey might take a while. And I can’t expect the other person to return the favor.
The reason why I see compassion as such a beautiful and significant endeavor is because it’s often done without reciprocation. John Bunyan once said, “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”
Compassion requires me to see the world as other people do. After I’ve entered someone else’s world, I can’t assume that it operates like mine. First, I have to learn the other person’s language. Then I need to listen as that person explains his or her understanding of existence, even if it’s very different from my own. As painful as it might be, I also need to let go of my emotional defenses long enough to feel what the other person is feeling: sad, angry, elated, anxious, hopeful. And, finally, I need to care about how that person is feeling: care that he’s feeling depressed, care that she’s feeling afraid.
It takes effort, but I believe that when we are compassionate, we are fulfilling our purpose as human beings. Unless we leave our comfortable inner worlds, we’re like caterpillars that never leave their cocoons.
I’ll be the first to admit that, on some days, I’d rather just enjoy the warmth of my little cocoon. Going outside sounds exhausting. But, deep down, I know that my purpose is undeniably linked to others. According to Mother Teresa, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
It’s unrealistic to think that I’ll reach out to people every day for the rest of my life. I’ve gone down the road of Giving Too Much, and it leads to a place called Burnout. But I’d like to continue down the road of Never Giving Up. I hope that no matter how exhausting or painful it becomes, I’ll always find a way to open my heart to the people beside me.