I ran into an interesting conundrum today, involving something that’s seldom thought of as controversial: compassion. Most people think of compassion as us being nice. It’s the ability to feel something for other people, their lives and situations. We feel compassion for people in Japan or Haiti when they’re lives are turned upside down by natural disasters, or those babies who need cleft palate surgery in television.
That’s only part of the story, though.
Compassion is that feeling of deep connection with other people, that sense that we do truly want the same things. Often, it will come to us in a flash, when we’re least expecting it, even for people we wouldn’t ordinarily like, such as the Kardashians. We think — what could I possibly have in common with those self-important, overly entitled idiots?
You’re both people; you have families. You will both live and die, struggle, love and be sick. You share the same air, and the same concerns. You both want to be loved.
And this is how compassion grows.
The famous teaching most Buddhist teachers give about compassion is of a woman who has mistakenly dropped her baby into a river and watches helplessly, in anguish, as the baby is carried away in the current. She’s frantic with worry about the baby’s wellbeing and safety, of course, but it’s the helplessness that takes it deeper.
We can’t always change everything. We can think about it, we can take action and try. But sometimes, things will drift away from us. Friendships die, even if we still like the person in question. Jobs are lost and found. We travel and change our perspective by looking at the world from a slightly different angle. We change, in small or large increments, never forgetting that we are human, just like others, with the same forces connecting us. How beautiful that is.