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Compassion. There’s a word we hear a lot, but how many people know the true meaning?

According to merriam-webster.com, compassion is “the sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” That last bit is important – with the desire to alleviate it. This is what separates compassion from sympathy or commiseration. That additional step beyond just trying to understand what another person is feeling. It goes further than trying to walk in someone’s shoes or be in their movie. There is a desire to take some action and actually help that other person.

I know a thing or two about compassion. In a previous life I spent countless hours researching everything and anything about compassion as it was to be the focus of my PhD dissertation. I’ve since moved on, without the PhD, but learned a lot in the process. But more than the research, I’ve learned about compassion from life experience. From doing. From being with others when they needed someone.

I’ve gone that extra step. I’ve taken action. I’ve helped people in need. But this isn’t about me.

Compassion seems to flood our senses more around the holidays.

There are food drives for the poor. There are coat collections to help the homeless stay warm. Toy drives give underprivileged children a tiny bit of joy. Many people volunteer at food kitchens to help feed the hungry. In the midst of all the rampant commercialism, there are pleas for charity.

Today we have what’s called ‘Giving Tuesday.’ Giving Tuesday was created in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation. It’s become a national day of giving that takes place after the post-Thanksgiving Black Friday and Cyber-Monday consumer-fest. Giving Tuesday was meant to somehow remind us that the holiday season is so much more than the gifts you receive. It’s a beautiful thing to pause and think about those less fortunate. It’s one day that somehow tries to balance out the other 364. To remind us that it’s not about getting something – it’s about giving.

But compassion doesn’t only come in the form of money or gifts or donations.

People need human interaction. More than money or gifts, people appreciate human interaction.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”
~ Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness

And the truth is the more compassion you have for others the more happiness and peace of mind you will have in your own life. There is something about the caring for others that increases our own sense of well-being. If nothing else, doing the right thing eliminates any guilt you may have from not doing it.

And when I say ‘the caring for others’ – I’m not only talking about those less fortunate. I don’t only mean the obvious ones: the homeless, the poor, the starving, needy… I bet there are people in your life who need help. Or companionship. Or love. Or basic human interaction.

Let me rephrase this. There are people in your life who need your compassion.

There are people in your life that may seem like they have it all and they are dying inside. There are people you know who appear to have the perfect life, or marriage, or career, and they put every ounce of effort they have into keeping up appearances. There are people in your life that are living a lie and they have no idea how to let their guard down. These people need your compassion just as much or even more than those strangers you just sent money to.

This holiday season take some time to look beyond the veneer, the outer shell, the façade of those you hold dear. Spend time with people. Talk with them. Be with them. Try to understand them.

I challenge you all to spend a few moments each day practicing compassion.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
~ Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness


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