The first step towards receiving and offering compassion is to connect – with ourselves and with others. It’s through connection that we can understand our own emotions, desires, and needs and appreciate the experiences, perspectives, and (sometimes) pain of others. That knowledge is essential if we are to offer compassion sensitively and effectively.
And it is also the ideal antidote to our present condition. We are suffering from a crisis of isolation: pulled apart by an economic system built on conflict and exploitation and a media and political narrative that delights in division, we are being cut adrift from one-another and, in the process, from our need to connect and belong. Recent research from the United States has found that members of the two “main” parties increasingly see their opponents as morally and ethically bankrupt. Understanding and cooperation is at a premium. If we are to break out of our silos and find ways of working together toward common objectives – a safe and stable planet, economic well-being, and an end to injustice – we have to reconnect.
But how? What are the secrets to making new connections and deepening those that already exist?
1. Suspend judgment
The first step towards making a new or deeper connection with another is to suspend any previous judgements you may have. Remember that you can never know a person entirely and nor can you fully understand their life experiences. Try to seek connection on a human-to-human level.
2. Listen with attention
Having sought to dispel existing myths or preconceptions you may have about a person or group of people, build a more complete understanding of their reality by listening to them with care and attention. Ask pertinent questions, show fascination in what they tell you, and, as above, seek not to judge but to understand.
3. Respect people’s boundaries and needs
By respecting other people’s boundaries you demonstrate understanding and build trust. People will identify you as someone they can share and confide in and will feel safe in your company. Boundaries someone might want to communicate can include not talking about a particular topic or using certain terms of phrases or not undertaking certain kinds of activity.
4. If you feel comfortable doing so, show vulnerability
Research shows that when we show vulnerability, others feel closer to us. It’s an important bridge towards creating meaningful connections that go beyond “small talk”. So if you feel comfortable in doing so, try to pull down the mask of invulnerability and share your emotions, feelings, and worries.
5. Be emotionally available
If someone wants to share something that has upset them or is causing them some kind of concern, listen with care and offer emotional support. Do not try to distance, minimize, or otherwise explain-away their experience. Remember it is real for them. If you are unsure what to say, simply ask relevant questions, use a comforting voice, and ask what you can do to help them.