Are you compassionate? Or have you adopted one or more of the following mentalities: “us against the world,” “why bother,” “me first,” or “mind over matter”? For those who seek to shape their lives on the basis of core values, compassion is a good place to start. It’s an infectious quality of being that serves to make the world a better place to be.
As many of you read this, I will be running north along Highway 1 from Big Sur to Carmel, California for the 19th presentation of the Big Sur International Marathon Click. I have had some anxiety about this race, since I’m still recovering from a bout of sciatica which has interrupted my training. This may turn out to be more of a leisurely stroll than a competitive run. Either way, it helps to know that family, friends, clients, running buddies, and now you, the readers of LifeTrek Provisions, are thinking of me.
On Wednesday of this past week, a college-age family friend who lives nearby called, with a tremble in her voice, to say that a chemical burn on her leg was possibly becoming infected. Would one of us be willing to take her to the emergency room? She called us, rather than 911, because she didn’t just want transportation and antibiotics; she also wanted compassion.
It may be hard to pin down and measure, but there is tremendous comfort and strength that comes from the caring of others. Keeping someone in our thoughts and prayers, being present with them, and assisting them through a time of suffering, is a tremendous gift. It is also the reflection of a core value, compassion, that lubricates social interactions and holds people together across space and time.
Is compassion one of your core values? It certainly comes to us on the strong recommendation of religions and cultures around the world. Sharing people’s suffering and building them up, rather than tearing them down and causing their suffering, is universally recognized as a good way of being.
Most of us were fortunate enough to acquire this value through our families and communities of origin as well as our own direct experience. We may not realize, however, the deep roots of this value. Compassion ranks high on the list of values in East and West, North and South, rich and poor, as well as indigenous and traditional civilizations.
Of course it’s natural and relatively easy to feel and express compassion towards those we know and love. Moving beyond our own kind to extend compassion to strangers and even enemies is another matter entirely. But here too the religions and cultures of the world agree: we would all be better off if compassion was the common currency of the world.
This ties into the value we’ve written about for the past two weeks, namely, respecting life. Religions and cultures around the globe make explicit and implicit mention of this mandate as a value extending not only to other human beings but also to animals, plants, and the entire universe through which we travel on “spaceship earth.”
Although this value has never been fully realized, that does not make it any less important, relevant, or valuable. Indeed, respecting life may well be considered the prime directive from which all other values follow.
The link to compassion is obvious. It is embedded in the second principle agreed to by the Parliament of the World’s Religions and cultures, which met in Chicago in 1993. This principle speaks of the “commitment to a culture of solidarity and a just economic order” in order to make, as common cause, not only the survival of life but also the quality of life for human beings and other living things.
A cavalier attitude in the face of suffering, human or otherwise, does not reflect this core value. Noting the widespread prevalence of hunger, deficiency, and need around the globe, the Parliament declared “we must develop a spirit of compassion with those who suffer, with special care for the children, the aged, the poor, the disabled, the refugees, and the lonely.” Simply put, this value encourages us to identify with those who suffer and to relieve suffering, in so far as we are able.
Unfortunately, compassion comes under attack from many fronts today. On the one hand, there are those with a clear supremacy agenda. For whatever reason, they adopt an “us against the world” mentality, which more often seeks to inflict rather than to relieve suffering. This mentality can infect individuals as well as groups, ranging from terrorist cells to nation states. Given the destructive power of modern weaponry, even one individual can inflict great suffering on a great many people. The horrors that groups can now inflict are unspeakable.
There are also those with a clear cynicism agenda. Either through personal experience (having tried but failed) or through independent assessment (sizing up the situation), they adopt a “why bother” mentality. They may not actively inflict suffering but neither do they actively seek to relieve suffering. Whether pragmatic or self-protective, such apathy produces a callous insulation from the problems of other individuals, groups, and peoples. Given the enormity of these problems, cynicism and inactivity results in its own brand of horrors.
Then there are those with a clear narcissistic agenda. They care only about themselves, adopting a “me first” mentality. Their impact on others, whether to inflict or to relieve suffering, is irrelevant to their core values and their reason for being. They focus primarily on their own prosperity and pleasure. For those who manage to climb their way to the top, this often translates into a disparaging attitude toward those who fail to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” Compassion is viewed as weakness and counterproductive. “God helps those who help themselves,” is their motto.
Finally, there are those with a clear transcendental agenda. Between a combination of ancient texts and modern psychology, they adopt a “mind over matter” mentality. Suffering is not irrelevant, it’s a byproduct of misguided thinking. Based upon a dualistic conception of the universe, which posits an essential reality not visible in the existential world, this approach counsels detachment from pain, suffering, and other material realities. “Everything is perfect, just the way it is, even when it’s not,” is their motto. In other words, suffering is not meant to be identified with and relieved, it’s meant to be observed, appreciated, manipulated, and dismissed.
Do any of these mentalities sound like you? Are you arrogant, cynical, narcissistic, or ethereal when it comes to suffering? Have you adopted an “us against the world,” “why bother,” “me first,” or “mind over matter” mentality? Then perhaps its time to find a new place in your heart for the sufferings of this world.
That would certainly be indicated by the common values of the world’s religions and cultures. Compassion literally means “to suffer with” someone. It is a time-honored way of approaching friends, strangers, and foes.
You are, most likely, familiar with the 2,600-year-old children’s story which demonstrates the benefits of compassion. Aesop’s fable of “The Lion and Androcles” tells the story of a ferocious lion who was suffering terribly with an infected thorn in his paw. One day he met Androcles, a Roman slave, who had escaped from his cruel master and fled to the forest. Androcles and the lion had no reason to trust each other, apart from the common bond of suffering.
Seeing the pain of the lion, Androcles mustered his courage, removed the thorn, and bandaged the wound. Soon the lion was able to rise and, like a dog, lick the hand of the man. For days, the lion brought the man meat in appreciation of his compassion.
Later, when both were captured, Androcles was sentenced to death, to be thrown to a lion in the arena before the emperor and a crowd of spectators. When the lion was released, he recognized Androcles and again behaved like a friendly dog, fawning and licking his hands. The surprised emperor summoned Androcles, heard the story of compassion, and promptly released them both to freedom.
That’s the way it is with compassion. We win friends, influence people, and even cause enemies to think twice about their hostility. Compassion that begins in the heart of one individual can spread to the emperor, the arena, and throughout the world. It is an infectious spirit that has for too long been in short supply.
The mandate to be compassionate is a near universal mandate of religions and cultures around the globe. As we formulate our own core values, it behooves us to claim some piece of that mandate as our own. Our lives will be richer as we learn to care more deeply for others.
Coaching Inquiries: Are you compassionate? How do you express compassion? Do you suffer only with the people you know and like? Or do you extend compassion to strangers and enemies?
To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.
In reading the Provision on “Eschewing Violence,” Click, I would be interested in knowing what action Bob would have taken if it was 1942 and he had to deal with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi approach to problem solving. (Ed. Note: That is a question we each must face, whether or not we embrace the value of respecting life. Clearly he had to be resisted and removed from power. Could that have been done through nonviolence? Extreme cases provoke tough questions. How would you have responded?)
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services