Tuesday, August 13, 2013

How to Be a More Compassionate Person

Everyone knows compassion is a virtue, and that altruistic action makes the world a better place. Last week, we discussed how compassion is a best-kept secret because of the huge benefits it provides to the person giving it. This week, I wanted to follow up with some ideas on how to cultivate greater compassion within ourselves and our sphere of influence.

The following are tips from from the web site Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life:
  1. Look for commonalities. We're all human and we all share common human feelings, concerns, doubts, etc. Noticing ways that we are alike fosters feelings of compassion for self and others, while focusing on differences can make us feel isolated and separate.
  2. Calm your inner worrier. Sometimes hearing of other people's challenges can launch us into fear ("that could happen to me!"), thus shutting down our ability to feel compassion. Working on staying present in the moment can ease inner stress.
  3. Encourage cooperation, not competition. Working together, or seeing ourselves and others as part of the same team, can foster feelings of compassion, while competition encourages separateness.
  4. See people as individuals (not abstractions). Remembering that everyone is a real person, as opposed to a statistic or demographic, can help us maintain our human connection.
  5. Don't play the blame game. There is a natural tendency to relieve our own stress by telling ourselves things like, "She shouldn't have been walking alone in that neighborhood---I would never do something like that!" 
  6. Respect your inner hero. When we realize that our efforts make a difference, we're more likely to reach out with compassion.
  7. Notice and savor how good it feels to exercise compassion. This will reinforce the positive experience, and make it more a part of who you are. 
  8. To cultivate compassionate kids, start by modeling kindness. Compassion is contagious (as is it's opposite), so be conscious of what example you're setting for future generations.
  9. Curb inequity. People who feel a sense of status over others, tend to feel less compassion and more entitlement. 
  10. Don't be a sponge. Taking on other people's suffering doesn't help anybody, and can lead to distress, burnout, and even illness. Compassion at its best is about alleviating suffering, not creating more.