Each of Us is Capable of Compassion

Compassion has a biological basis and an evolutionary advantage and yet, we often stifle it and deny its place in human culture and condition. Why do we do this? Why isn’t compassion a human instinct, automatic and regular, like our drive to seek out water, or a mate? Why isn’t it as easy as breathing?

It isn’t because the biological basis relates to potential. The way each of us is born with the potential to speak, read, and perform complex mathematical equations, it all depends very much on how you are raised and when you are introduced to the subject. Like most things it depends on your childhood.

Studies have shown that our negative feelings are much more inheritable than our positive feelings. We can receive tendencies toward depression, anxiety, and possibly cruelty from our parents but we don’t get much of their generosity, empathy, or compassion. That has to be taught to us. That has to be unlocked through healthy relationships early on and seeing other people treated as people and not merely means to ends.

I like to compare it to understanding and performing math. It seems the closest analogy. Some people will struggle with it and for some people, it will come easily. Most of us need to be taught how to do it, some of us will never get it, and there are some who will invent calculus in their spare time like it’s nothing.

Parents who have healthy boundaries and allow their children to develop with the right amount of support and care, and use reason to teach their children right from wrong obviously raise more empathetic children. Conversely, and also obviously, children who are abused, invalidated, and who do not observe their parents expressing compassion do not develop the ability to show it either.

Compassion can develop in reaction to us not being taught or shown how or why to feel it. Some develop a high-capacity for compassion even when a parent attempts to stifle it. While parents are a child’s first examples of how to behave and treat other people, a parent’s example can also be the first to be rejected as the child enters society, encounters new ideas, and becomes independent from the parent.

But the norm is probably that children turn out a lot like their parents. A cruel parent raises a cruel child who grows into a cruel adult.

But I question whether compassion the emotion is ever really eradicated in a person. I tend to believe that even the child raised in cruelty and insecurity grows into an adult who still feels compassion but just can’t express it. I believe that child becomes a person who uncomfortable with those feelings. To alleviate the anxiety associated with compassion the child learns to express them as the inverse feelings of cruelty or indifference.

That person is not at all beyond redemption. They can be made whole, healthy, and empathetic when they are shown that compassion is nothing to be afraid of. They need someone who will not give up on them and who will take the time to reason with them and lead by example. It’s tough, but it can be done.

There is room to argue that their capacity for kindness is stunted. Like a person who never learned to read as a child, but I believe they can still feel it on some level. I believe no one is beyond the ability to care about the welfare of another human being.

That unconditional love, that dedication and that time is something we desperately need as a society. We have raised and taught each other that compassion is weakness and is avoided at all costs by all but the most foolish. We need to show each other that compassion is nothing to be afraid of. In fact, the increased development and expression of compassion in each of us can only result in a better world for all of us to live in.

The same way we do whatever we can to make sure our children learn math, or science, or history so that they will have a better chance at navigating and succeeding in the adult world, we should be teaching our children how to express compassion. The same way we cultivate and encourage a child who exhibits a talent for math, music, or art, we should be doing our best to encourage the child who has a naturally higher capacity for compassion.

The same way we could never imagine telling a child that the ability to do well and learn in school was a weakness or an undesirable trait, we should never tell them that kindness, understanding, empathy, or caring are either.

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Featured image via Unsplash

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Look After One Another

Hello, dear readers and happy Monday! I know I know, Mondays aren’t happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting nothing more than to crawl back into bed and escaping the world.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s imagine that Mondays are the days when we get to start all over again. Let’s imagine all the bad things that happened last week don’t matter anymore and that we’ve been given a second chance to do it all again, and this time, we might even get it right.

From now on Monday’s are for making the changes we want to see in ourselves, and for thinking about the changes we want to see in the world. Monday’s are our new favorite days!

As for me, this Monday is off to a better than usual start. I managed to wake up on time and get ready without having to rush. For some reason, I didn’t require the usual mental lectures and accosting I normally inflict upon myself. I just did what needed to be done. I’m hoping the rest of the week will be just as smooth.

“Anyone who cares about you has to realize that you need a little looking after, nothing else really matters.”

— Franz Kafka, Letters to Milena

A few weeks ago we received terrible news. One of our drivers was found dead in her home. The cause was determined to be Pulmonary Embolism or blood clots in her lungs. I didn’t know her very well, but the news saddened me. She had not shown up to work for two mornings before our staff decided to do a “welfare check” on her. I know it wouldn’t have saved her, but I don’t think it should have taken that long for someone to realize something was wrong.

It’s sad that she was so alone. I thought about how many people out there could be hurt or dying, and no one knew. I am lucky; I live with someone. Someone who makes sure I am okay throughout the day, every day, but what if I didn’t? I realized that if it weren’t for my girlfriend, it might be days before anyone realized something was wrong with me.

I don’t call people often and if they call me and I don’t answer they don’t think that’s out of the ordinary at all. They I am just doing what always do, avoiding people, or maybe I’m sleeping, or my phone is in another room. Unanswered texts are normal as well. I like to talk to people when I’m ready. I’m sure we all know someone like that.

What if something happened to them? How long until you knew?

It was not like this woman not to show up to work. Not only that but we work split shifts, which means we check in between two and three times a day. By the midday or the afternoon, when she didn’t show up for the second time, someone should have tried to find out what happened to her.

I understand that your boss is not your keeper, but should they be? For many people, their coworkers are the people they see more that family and sometimes even spouses. For some people, their job is the only place they go regularly and the only place they might be missed from.

So, this week I think we should all think about what our responsibilities are to the people we see every day. What would you do if one day they stopped showing up? Would you shrug your shoulders and make jokes? Or would you do something about it? What would you do?

I have a friend I know lives alone. When she is planning on missing a day she tries to let me know and days she isn’t here, and I didn’t know about it in advance, I text her and make sure she is ok. I check with our office to see if she may have called in or if she had previously planned to be out. I ask other people she talks to if they’ve heard from her. I make sure I know she is okay.

We shouldn’t let days go by before we notice someone is missing or before we question whether something might be wrong.

This week, find someone to be responsible for. The person who works at the desk next to you. The coworker you see on your smoke break. The one who you’ve spoken to a few times but haven’t quite crossed over into friendship with. Talk to them and find out if they live alone and if they need someone to check in on them should they not show up.

I know it sounds weird or invasive, but I can’t stop thinking about that woman who lay dead in her home for two days before someone thought to call her. It’s sad. It’s sad we live this way. It’s sad we would rather not bother someone, or get in their business, than to make sure that they are okay.

We have to get over these uncomfortable feelings we have about caring for strangers.

We all need looking after, and for that to happen, we all have to be willing to be one another’s keeper.

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Original image via Unsplash

Be Kind to One Another

I regularly like to watch videos or animations that put the universe into perspective for me. I like things that remind me how small and fragile we are. It is the one thing that keeps me from becoming cruel.

It sounds strange but I don’t think people realize how easy it is to become a cruel, uncaring person. Cruelty is just as much human nature as love and in order to keep it in check, we must remind ourselves that other human beings are just as important and precious as us. We have to remember just how lonely we are in this universe, and just how much we need each other.


This Earth is our home and it’s all we have. All the humans on this God forsaken rock are all the humans there are. Each one is unique and so each one is special, and yet we treat each other as if we are nothing at all. People hurt other people every single day. We treat our things better than we treat each other. To me, this makes very little sense. Each of us only has one life, and that life is ticking away at an alarming rate. Every time you are cruel to someone you take a tiny piece of their happiness that can never be gotten back. You make a tiny part of their life less joyful and that can never be undone.

Life is hard enough and the world is so full of suffering we should all be doing our tiny part to make it easier, safer, happier. We all feel so lonely, so disconnected from everyone around us. We bare our own little pain and carry all our emotional baggage and every cruel word or mean look is added to the pile. How many have you contributed to? How much hurt have you doled out?

“Be kind, because everyone is having a really hard time.”

Plato

I believe each person, because they are special and only have one life, is entitled to as much joy as can be had on this planet. Unfortunately greater society does not agree. Oh, most people say the do and yet many take great satisfaction in infringing on the joy of as many people as they can. Most of these people don’t understand what they are doing but I find it to be a great crime against nature to be cruel to others.

Cruelty is a part of who we are and what we are capable of and we make bad choices sometimes. We say mean things out of anger, frustration, and broken-heartedness. We can be selfish and self-centered, and forget that other people feel harsh words and brutal indifference just as acutely as we do. We use our cruelty to others as a means to build ourselves back up. We wrongly think that our ability to inflict pain confirms our strength and control over our lives.

I believe the greater show of strength and control is to be kinder and gentler to your fellow humans. It takes a great deal of confidence, security, and self-awareness to treat others with kindness when you can. It shows great moral character to be able to put your own feelings aside and focus on the feelings of others before your own. It shows that you understand the value of a person and have chosen to make a positive impact on the world around you.

But even those who are unkind deserve our kindness too. They are just as precious as everyone else and through the kindness of others they might find their way. Often it takes just having one person in our lives who is selfless and loving of all human beings to show us that it is ok to be vulnerable and help others. It’s sad but we have to learn again to understand each other. We have to learn that it is not only ok, but good to be kind whenever possible, and, as the Dalai Lama said, it is always possible.

“Be kind to one another. Bye, bye.”

Ellen DeGeneres