At heart, compassion is a way of life. It is a mindset that shapes the way we view and interact with the world. To live with compassion means making a commitment to cultivate this mindset and take action stemming from it on a daily basis. It is a pledge – to yourself and the world – to embrace our shared humanity, recognize the struggles we all face, and work to create a more just, equitable and caring world for all.
What does compassion mean?
Compassion starts with a recognition of our common humanity and interdependence. When we shift into this perspective, things change. We no longer see ourselves as separate or in conflict with others but as part of the larger tapestry of human existence. We understand that when the wellbeing of others is harmed, the wellbeing of all is harmed. From that stems an understanding and empathy with the suffering of ourselves and others, coupled with the motivation to alleviate and prevent it.
A life lived with compassion
When an individual takes a pledge to live compassionately, they commit to weaving this mindset into the fabric of their daily life. An essential part of that journey recognizes that we have to cultivate the mindset of compassion.
Like any skill, compassion requires practice. It’s a muscle that can grow with repeated use. Using a meditation, mantra, or journal can all help to shift our thoughts towards compassion. Similarly there are habits we can embed that help us to generate more positive emotions in our day – habits like taking a walk outside if possible, practicing self-care, and engaging in hobbies – that can also make it easier to feel compassion.
Then, as we interact with others, we have endless ways to offer and spread compassion. Things like listening closely to the concerns, ideas, or experiences of others, offering a helping hand, and speaking with kindness. In more difficult times we could be the shoulder to cry on, a carer or advocate.
And, as we grow into our compassionate selves, we can become advocates for compassion – finding ways to volunteer our time so that we become part of a global network that is spreading and embedding compassion as a way of life.
Small steps, large impact
This is how change will happen. Acts of compassion are like snowdrops that accumulate into an avalanche with a momentum and force of its own, sweeping away old certainties and ways of thinking.
And to see how, we need to step back in time. In the 1970s, activist Alice Herz began writing letters to those incarcerated in German prisons. She wanted to remind them that they were still loved and valued as human beings. This small act of compassion – taking the time to see the humanity in incarcerated strangers – ended up sparking a wider prison reform movement across the country. Her letters inspired various groups across the country to reach out to inmates through prison programs and rehabilitative services. It ignited real change by reminding society as a whole of our shared bonds and responsibility to heal. This groundswell of compassionate action grew into a vast network of support and rehabilitation that significantly reduced recidivism rates and improved prisoners’ lives after release.
You do not know where the change you start today could end up. The only thing you can know for certain is that the change is yours to make. Seize that power and that opportunity and your life and world will be better for it.
So take the pledge today to live with compassion. Though it requires commitment and courage, your life and our world will be better for it.