What does it mean to be compassionate?
The roots of the word compassion are from old French and can be summarised as “to feel pity together” and “to suffer with”. I prefer Paul Gilbert’s definition which states that “compassion can be defined as behaviour that aims to nurture, look after, teach, guide, mentor, soothe, protect, offer feelings of acceptance and belonging – in order to benefit another person” (Gilbert, P; 2013, p.217).
We cannot forget the need for self-compassion and therefore I would extend this definition to include ourselves. In learning to be compassionate people, we also need to learn to be compassionate with ourselves.
Why is compassion necessary?
Well, looking at current affairs, the world over, it seems to me that our world has become harsh, cynical and uncaring. The emphasis is on what we can get for ourselves with a growing disregard for the needs of others. We have become selfish and unconcerned about humanity as a whole and this attitude could very well lead to our demise.
Taking time to contemplate compassion as a lifestyle may seem strange. However, think of how kindness and care from others makes you feel. Your first thought may be “What does she want from me?” Gone are the days where you can simply trust what another says – these days we often look for the ulterior motive behind kindness. How tragic is that - the fact that we cannot trust one another?
According to psychological theory, the first task that a newborn needs to learn is to trust. Without trust, life seems hopeless. Fast forward to adulthood and see how not meeting this primal developmental milestone has affected us. Often, we do not trust one another. This makes us feel afraid and uncertain and leads to what the Buddhists may term “grasping” behaviour – the behaviour of looking out for myself without concern for others.
Now imagine a world where we begin the maturation process by choosing to focus on compassion as a way of being… not just as a passing thought. According to Paul Gilbert, compassion is a skill that can be learned and practised. How wonderful that is! We can learn to be more caring, more kind and more loving to one another. For me this is very empowering and I have made the choice for compassion. In fact, I choose it as my lifestyle and my way of being.
This body of compassionate work focuses on assisting each of us to choose and practice kindness and compassion – again and again and again. I would love you to join me on this journey so that we can create a different world where peace, kindness and love are no longer the exception.
My commitment to compassion being my way of life takes awareness and practice. I need to be brave enough to acknowledge those parts of me that champion “being right” and are disinterested in taking the kinder view. Ultimately, this requires that I move into the murky depths of my being to discover the shadows and the light. Sometimes, I am ashamed of what I see. Sometimes, I’m in awe. Through it all, I am learning acceptance, patience and love. I am learning to honour and love myself, with compassion, so that my experience of love expands and I am then able to let go of judgements and honour and love others, with compassion.
Carol Cooper-Steyn is a social worker who has worked in the fields of child protection, child and adolescent sexual abuse and paediatric palliative care. She qualified as a craniosacral therapist in 2002 and is a certified non-medical hypnotherapist and an emotional freedom techniques (EFT) and matrix reimprinting practitioner. Her clients view her as an incredible ‘soul coach’.