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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Belated 5: Acting with Compassion

In my small city, our city council was recently debating a law regarding "aggressive panhandling".  It would have outlawed panhandling in certain places and banned "aggressive" tactics like following an individual, continually asking, touching someone without consent, and intentionally blocking or impeding the free passage of an individual or vehicle.

These sound totally reasonable, except when you take into account that even the local police say these instances are practically nonexistent as it is.  You can usually see anywhere from 1 to 5 people sitting at intersections with signs in our city.  Oftentimes, it is single men, but every once in a while you see single women and the occasional couple.  I used to be the type that refused to give anything to a panhandler, except the occasional advice to seek out the mission in our town.  I heard those stories about the individuals who refused to take the food offered, instead asking for money and I thought, "Well, to heck with them.  They just want cash to abuse alcohol or drugs."  

However, over the years, I have asked myself the difference between myself and these individuals.  I had a job, a husband with a career, and a large network of supporting friends and family.  I've never known true hunger and I've damned well never had to drink rot gut vodka just to make myself forget my hunger and sleep through the night.  Who am I to set limits on my gifts? 

 I have prayed for many years to have a softer heart and to be more giving to others.  It's hard to be compassionate.  There are many different ways that we can act with compassion.  I have decided to make this Tuesday Wednesday 5 about compassion.

1.  Judge less.  

I know, I know, easier said than done, right?  It's a lot easier to look at and think about every way a person is doing it wrong or living their life in moral decrepitude or relying on addiction.  As I said above, I try very hard not to put MY limitations on other individuals.  I am not them.  Judgment of a person based on their color, creed, gender, religion, etc. is not only not helpful, but it usually has the opposite effect intended.  Maybe instead we should ignore those things and focus on the person.

2.  Open our hearts more.

I subtitled this one:  LOVE without ceasing.  In order to act with compassion, we need to look at that person and decide to love them.  We need to cast our negativity aside and open our hearts to helping them.  As Dr. King stated (and I paraphrase), dark cannot drive out dark, only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

3.  Actively listen and (attempt to) understand individual struggles.

Some of us may never know what it's like to lose parents at a young age, to lose children, to be raped, or beaten, or ignored.  We may never know the realities of war or loss of limbs or bad health issues.  Those of us trying to practice compassion MUST take the time to ACTIVELY listen.  That does not mean listening and ignoring or nodding our heads throughout.  That means to engage that person and ask questions or give comfort while attempting to understand that person's struggles.  When we do that, we act with compassion and open the door for that person to realize they are important and loved.

4.  Do good works selflessly.

Acting with compassion sometimes means stepping up and helping out.  It can be as simple as direct eye contact and a smile, holding a door open, or picking up something that fell out of someone's purse or shopping cart.  Recently, my daughter and I were at Joann's Fabrics and a mother was there with an infant in a car seat in one cart, another cart piled with fabric, and a toddler.  The toddler started grabbing stickers off a hook on an end cap and dropping them on the floor.  The mother saw this and gently grabbed her daughter away.  I immediately nudged my daughter and she picked up every one of those sticker pages and hung them up, without question.  Doing good isn't always a grand gesture.  Doing them selflessly is important, because even though doing good works does foster good feelings and a sense of accomplishment, our main goal shouldn't be to boost ourselves, but to uplift others.  This is a great example of compassion in action.

5.  Speak directly and sensitively.

This one can be difficult to do as well.  Part of acting with compassion is being sensitive to the person you are talking with and actively listening to.  We must be sure that they hear and understand that we have taken their humanity into account.  Speaking directly is an act of compassion as well.  This means that we are trying to direct them to better choices while also realizing that they are adults who get to make the final decision.  

Do you have anything to add to this list?  Compassion is something that we need to foster in our youth and I feel it is sorely needed in today's world.  When we have refugees drowning while trying to flee murderous religious tyranny and LGBT individuals killing themselves at an ever increasing rate and people hating others based on their occupations, or color, or religion, we have a society lacking compassion and empathy.  Please, act with compassion, and encourage others to do the same.  LOVE (and pray) without ceasing.


Mlada said...

You have an incredibly loving heart.

Janelle said...

Aw thanks Millie! I think I try really hard, but it doesn't always come easily.