For this twenty-second—and quite possibly last—tool in my Ascension toolkit I’d like to discuss a tool whose power I have only recently come to recognise: compassion.
The Oxford Dictionary defines compassion as a ‘sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others’. How is this a tool? It’s all very noble, but how do pity and a concern for others fit into this series on toolkits to enhance our emotional lives?
Because the dictionary definition is woefully lacking… it sees compassion as a passive emotional state where one person sympathises with others. It totally fails to recognise the active side of compassion that enables a compassionate person to powerfully and positively alter their interactions with others, particularly when conflict is involved.
We can feel compassion for someone who is suffering and it changes little. It may provoke us to make a gesture—to reach out, or perhaps donate to an emergency appeal. That is in itself valuable, but as a tool compassion comes into its own in the face of antagonism.
Antidote to antagonism
It is very difficult for someone to be upset with you when you have genuine compassion for them—when you truly recognise the pain of their situation and do not judge them for it. This true compassion is totally disarming.
It is very difficult for someone to be upset with you when you have genuine compassion for them—when you truly recognise the pain of their situation and do not judge them for it
They may come at you with their emotional claws grasping for your jugular vein, but in the face of true compassion their antagonism will wither, to be replaced by a mutual sense of the suffering that the human journey sometimes entails.
Compassion for self
You may have noticed that in those last two paragraphs I twice used the phrase ‘true compassion’. That’s deliberate. We can experience a kind of compassion where we feel sorry for others, yet still keep an emotional distance from the object of compassion.
True compassion requires us to be as compassionate towards ourselves as we are towards others, and that’s hard. We tend to be much harder on ourselves than on others. This one-sided compassion doesn’t have the disarming effect that I mention above. For that our compassion must run both ways, recognising not only the humanity of whoever is facing us but also that ‘there but for the grace of God go I’.
Last year I wanted to terminate a business arrangement with someone who could be fractious at times and always insisted that differences be resolved face to face. I went into a place of compassion for the pain that lay behind their fractiousness, and from that place I wrote a neutral email ending our arrangement and offering to meet for a discussion. Completely against type, I received an email accepting my decision without the need to meet. Through compassion, a potentially messy situation was quickly and cleanly resolved.
There are times when we all need this kind of compassion. Extend it to both yourself and others. It’s a game-changer.