With one of the most tumultuous United States elections upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to talk a little bit about the importance of compassion in everyday life. If you’re like most of us, you’ve probably lost a few Facebook friends, and maybe even a few relatives, in the midst of this great divide that we all find ourselves faced with. But, we believe that the ties that bind us together are stronger than the forces that are trying to pull us apart.
Just the other day, one of our colleagues, a psychologist, had an eye-opening experience in her small, southern, town. She pulled up for an oil change, with her “Bernie” sticker on her car. The attendant, clearly a local who wore a “Make America Great Again” t-shirt, eyed her with some suspicion. Yet our friend smiled and asked the attendant how her day was. Then the attendant complimented our friend on her nails, and they both talked about how their little girls, (ages 6 and 7, respectively), loved getting their nails done.
That’s what happens when two people look each other in the eye and see that they are both human. If these two met online, let’s say, in a political forum, they likely would have begun their correspondence with conflict, insults, or worse. In person, people remember that we all bleed red.
As it turns out, treating one another with compassion and kindness is not only good for making acquaintances, it’s also good for your health! Multiple studies have pointed to the positive effects that compassion has on the giver’s well-being. In fact, practicing compassion has been linked to positive outcomes on many levels. On the physical level, compassionate behavior leads to lower levels of cellular inflammation (the trademark of many diseases, including cancer), while on the emotional level, the act of giving stimulates the same pleasure centers in the brain that are activated when we eat something delicious or have great sex. Researchers have even found that both infants, and chimpanzees, appear to be hard-wired to help others. Compassion is in our DNA!
But, wait! What exactly is compassion?
The dictionary says that compassion is a “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others,” but we believe that falls definition short. First of all, having compassion for oneself has been found to be helpful psychologically. Secondly, compassion is really different than pity. Pity involves feeling sorry for someone whom you believe to be suffering, but, let’s be honest, when you pity someone, there is a part of you that feels separate from, or, even better than, that person. With compassion, you recognize your sameness with the one who is suffering. There is no arbitrary divide between the two of you. You are present, and bearing witness to another person’s pain (or your own), without judgment, and you both are better for it.
If you would like to talk more about how to integrate acts of compassion into your daily life, contact us. We are here to help!