For this nineteenth tool in the New Earth series I’d like to discuss a tool whose power I have only recently come to recognise: compassion.
That itself seems weird, because I consider it to be one of the four key values of Jesus: non-judgment, forgiveness, compassion, and unconditional love.
Although the word doesn’t appear in the Bible (I use the Contemporary English Version), Jesus demonstrates compassion throughout his ministry.
Matthew 9:20 is a typical example. “A woman who had been bleeding for twelve years came up behind Jesus and barely touched his clothes.” On his way to heal an official’s daughter, Jesus has the compassion to recognise the woman’s faith and heal her.
What I now see is that compassion can be actively used as an emotional tool.
The Oxford Dictionary defines it 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 practical tools to improve our wellbeing?
Because the dictionary definition is woefully lacking… It sees compassion as a passive emotional state where one person sympathises with others.
The dictionary definition is woefully lacking… It totally fails to recognise the active side of compassion that enables us to powerfully and positively alter our interactions with others.
It totally fails to recognise the active side of compassion that enables us to powerfully and positively alter our interactions with others, particularly when conflict is involved.
We can be compassionate towards someone who is suffering and it changes little. It may provoke us to make a gesture—to reach out, or perhaps donate to an appeal. That is in itself valuable, but as a tool it comes into its own in the face of antagonism.
Antidote to antagonism
It’s very difficult for someone to be upset with you when you genuinely feel compassionate. When you truly recognise the pain of their situation and do not judge them for it. This true compassion is totally disarming.
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 shared sense of the suffering that the human journey sometimes entails.
I recently had an experience where I decided to disengage from a business commitment that was becoming increasingly toxic.
So I wrote a completely neutral email explaining my decision, with no blame for either party. I offered to meet for a face-to-face discussion. I made arrangements to resolve all outstanding issues. But I also left no doubt my decision was final.
More importantly, I wrote the email from a place of total compassion. The reply I received went completely against the grain of the way matters had been going. It was polite, recognised the difficulties between us, and accepted the termination of the arrangement in good grace.
Jesus demonstrates the same finality in the story of the adulteress brought before the Pharisees for judgment. “If any of you have never sinned, then go ahead and throw the first stone at her!” (John 8:7)
Compassion for self
To work, compassion must come from a place of humility, an egoless state. It’s not a clever tool to get someone off our backs. We can feel sorry for others yet still maintain an emotional distance, stay aloof. That doesn’t work. We must participate in the compassion.
True compassion requires us to be as kind to ourselves as we are to others, and that’s hard. We tend to be much harder on ourselves than on others.
Luke 6:37 speaks to this two-way compassion: “Don’t be hard on others and God won’t be hard on you.” Tread softly as much as you can. Others will tread softly on you.
We all need compassion at times. Extend it to both yourself and others. It’s a game-changer.
Photo by J W on Unsplash