After the November 8 election, I sent a dear friend an email asking about what he might be feeling or thinking. He began his response with, “I really believe we can only ‘compassion’ our way forward.” After astutely turning this noun into a verb, he continued, “We have to be the ones to try and make democracy compassionate and caring.”
In previous postings, building on the work of Daniel Goleman, I have described various types of empathy as a prelude to compassion: cognitive empathy (understanding what others are saying); empathic concern (sensing what others need); and emotional empathy (feeling what others are feeling).
Compassion includes and is supported by empathy and adds another essential element: the desire to ease the discomfort or suffering of others. We can do this in several ways:
- Notice and reconsider the harmful things we might want to say or do in reaction to the beliefs and opinions of others;
- Try to understand what’s important to others, especially those who differ from us in all the ways that people do (experience, education, race, ethnicity, class, gender, ideology, and sexual orientation);
- Remember that understanding is not the same as agreeing;
- Ask questions of genuine curiosity about what is important, what others might need, or what would be helpful;
- Believe that the only sustainable way forward is for us to understand one another and find common ground;
- Hold a wish for the well-being of others in our hearts and behave in accordance with that wish.
When I wrote this last bullet I asked myself whether I could really wish for the well-being of anyone, especially those in positions of power, who appear to want to take away the rights of many and treat them inequitably. This is a tough one. I’ll need to work at separating their actions from their worth as human beings.
I believe my friend is directionally on target. We are ones that have to try to make democracy compassionate and caring. He also wrote, “I’m channeling my ancestors who didn’t have government on their side and still managed to represent the country’s better angels. We can all strive for that.”
As I wrote in my November email to him, I continue to ask myself, “How can I be really kind and tender with myself and everyone, I mean everyone, I come in contact with today and as many days as I can see into the future?” We can all strive to “compassion” our way forward.
Mary’s book “Talk Matters! Saving the World One Word at a Time” is now available. Click here to purchase it.