According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, compassion is defined as “sympathetic consciousness of other’s distress together with a desire to alleviate it”. Wikipedia and dictionary.com add that compassion is a feeling that may bring you to wanting to help and to alleviate suffering. It feels like there is so much more to compassion than these very brief definitions. I’m not sure we, the human collective, can really understand the possible depths of compassion that we are capable of yet. The definitions offered here reflect our collective limited understanding of compassion. Perhaps we are here to learn and grow beyond today’s understanding.
Let’s look at some examples of compassion as we understand it now before looking at an example of compassion on a deeper level.
The Humane Society in Sonoma County, California has a veterinary clinic funded by grants and community donations to assist people with low income and their pets that require veterinary care. People and animal lovers discovered a need, looked beyond themselves and shared what they could in the name of helping animals back to wellness or compassionate euthanasia.
Mother Teresa, a Roman Catholic nun, dedicated her life to serving and caring for those who had no one to care for them including elderly people, those with financial challenges, people with very low or no vision, people with disabilities and the dying. She aided a leper colony. She went to places in her heart where many fear to tread in service of the other. She created pathways to deep compassion.
And finally Nelson Mandela, a champion of human rights and equity, inches us toward an even more open hearted compassion with this example. He was out eating with his body guards sometime during his Presidency for South Africa. He noticed a man eating alone. He invited the man over to his table to join him. The man joined him, but never spoke a word. His hands trembled as he ate his meal. Nelson’s body guards thought this gentleman might be sick or unwell in some way. After the gentleman had gone, Nelson explained that this gentleman had been one of the prison guards he had known during his imprisonment. In fact, he had subjected Nelson to violence and torture. Surely this man would be fearful of how he would be treated by Nelson now that he was the leader of the region. Instead what he experienced is a quiet and deep level of compassion. Nelson could have been angry. He could have verbally or non-verbally shamed the man. He could have left him to sit alone while enjoying the company of his guards. Instead, he invited him to be part of his circle. May we all reach this level of compassion.