Empathy and Compassion

You must be the change you wish to see in the world’. Mahatma Gandhi

I try to live by this. I try to instill this in my daughter. I have this tattooed on my body. I wish the world would aspire to this mantra. But it doesn’t. Where do we learn empathy and compassion from? What do those words even mean?

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Compassion is sympathy and concern for the suffering and misfortunes of others. The word ‘compassion’ is derived from Latin, meaning ‘to suffer together’.

I’m trying to think of where I learned to be compassionate and empathetic. Was it something I was born with? Was it nurtured and modeled by my parents? Was it borne out of my own struggles and experiences?

I really want to know because I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated with the lack of caring in our world. And I know that everyone says that you need to look for the helpers in the most hopeless situations but why can’t everyone just pitch in and help? Why do some people look away instead of reaching out a hand?

My problem, if it is one, is that I want to help everyone. I read articles about abused and abandoned pitbulls, used and discarded from fighting rings and it makes my heart ache. I see a story about the plight of refugees and what they’ve gone through to escape their circumstances and it kills me. I want to help the vulnerable people of our society that seem to slip through the cracks. If I could, if I had the time, energy and money, I would help everyone. And I just sit and wonder why we aren’t all trying to pitch in and make the world a better place?

What makes a person turn a blind eye to the suffering of others? Is it indifference? Perhaps they don’t know where to begin to help or feel like they don’t have the resources? In some cases, maybe they just don’t care. I just don’t understand. Any bit of effort, no matter how small, can send a ripple out into the ocean. Small acts can make a big difference.

If you’re not in a position to adopt an animal from a shelter but want to help in some way, you can donate bleach and laundry detergent, items that they are always looking for. Or you could volunteer to walk dogs or socialize cats.

If you’re concerned about the homeless and marginalized, work a soup kitchen or help build hygiene kits. Volunteer at a Habitat for Humanity project.

If your heart goes out to someone who just lost everything to a house fire, take an inventory of your belongings and see if there is anything that you can donate to help them rebuild.

If the thought of someone going hungry due to food insecurity hurts your soul, donate to your local foodbank or volunteer to be a Meals on Wheels driver.

If you can’t get in at the nitty-gritty level, there are runs/walks organized by charity organizations. You can get exercise and help raise awareness about a cause that you are passionate about.

All I’m saying is, there is always a way to help make things better. Be it a gift of time, items, effort or money. It’s only as hard as you make it.

And here’s the problem with the helpers. They are exhausted. They’re exhausted because the ills of the world weigh heavy on them. And they are always the same people, investing time and energy into making things better. They’re sensitive. Empathetic. Compassionate. They are spread thin, comforted only by the knowledge that the little things go a long way. Can we just give them a little bit of help? Can we pick up the reigns and softly tell them that they can rest for awhile and recharge?

I feel like this is more of a rant than a post and it probably is. I’m just so damn frustrated with the indifference to suffering that I see in the world. It weighs heavy on my heart and I guess instead of making some desperate call to action, I should probably just stay within my own circle of influence and do what I can. So forgive me if this sounded preachy and judgmental. I just feel like we could all be a little bit more compassionate and empathetic. Wouldn’t we want the same thing in return?

Brene Brown on Empathy video – short and cute but very on point.

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