“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” ~ Dalai Lama
I used to think that compassion and kindness were the same thing.
As I grow, I’ve come to realize that they are different, and that kindness without compassion is never complete.
Kindness is an outward action, while compassion is an inward feeling. To be kind means to do something good, which is often based on our own ethics and values. On the other hand, to be compassionate means to think and feel a certain way about other people, and it is often based in our hearts.
It’s possible to be kind but not compassionate, or to be compassionate but not kind—or we can be both.
For instance, we might buy our friend a birthday present, but later grumble that they didn’t get us a present for our special day. Or we might tip the waiter at coffee shop, but get annoyed that he spilled coffee on the table. Or we might grab a glass of water for our partner, but wonder why she couldn’t get it herself.
Buying the present, tipping the waiter, and getting the glass of water are obviously acts of kindness. We are motivated by our principles. However, the grumbling, the complaining, and the wondering show a lack of compassion—an inability to understand another person’s situation or experience.
Maybe our friend didn’t buy us a present because she was short on money. Maybe the waiter spilled the water because he was in rush. Maybe our partner didn’t get the water because she wasn’t feeling well.
When we are both kind and compassionate, we give a part of ourselves to the other person—we give our sympathy, tolerance, and understanding. We expand our minds beyond what we’ve been taught is kind and connect with our feelings.
So how can we be kind while also cultivating compassion? Below are a few tips that can help:
Practice unconditional kindness.
The world isn’t always going to be kind to us, which can leave us drowning in our own emotional and mental suffering. That said, some people’s misery often distracts them from cultivating kindness toward others. Some might be jaded; others might not believe they are capable of kindness. Whatever the reason, we shouldn’t create barriers to kindness. Practice being kind without any expectations. Turn your focus to how you can contribute to someone else’s happiness.
Whenever you’re on the verge of judging someone (especially after being kind to them), take a moment to breathe. Our breath is the most helpful tool that we can access any time of the day. Even a three-minute breathing exercise is enough to distract our minds from labeling or judging. And minimizing our judgment is the first step toward cultivating compassion.
Understand the conditions.
Consider what pushes others to behave in a certain way. Put yourself in their shoes. Maybe they’re having a bad day, or they’ve been traumatized, or they’re blinded by ignorance. Perhaps, they are doing the best they can with what they know. Trying to understand why people do what they do allows us to be more compassionate when interacting with them.
Make it a daily practice.
As you wake each morning, affirm that you will make compassion a priority. Stay mindful of your surroundings and tune in to the people, animals, and nature around you. Observe actions and reactions. When we shift the focus outside ourselves a few times a day, we give ourselves the chance to see what others are going through and develop empathy for their situations. And once we develop that empathy, compassion becomes easier.
Every night before you go to bed, practice metta. Remember the people you encountered during your day and wish them love, health, happiness, and peace. Forgive those who hurt you, and forgive yourself for any wrong you might have committed. To wish others well and forgive them is the epitome of compassion.
Author: Elyane Youssef
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina