One of the greatest qualities we possess as human beings is our capacity to be concerned for those who are suffering. This quality is called compassion and it motivates us to help those who are experiencing physical, mental or emotional pains. Compassion is the fuel for generosity, kindness and love for those who are hurting. Compassion has also kept us from destroying one another (so far, anyway).
Sadly, in the course of everyday life, we become so preoccupied with our own concerns we develop a blind eye to the events and people around us. Measuring our worth by our material successes only isolates us further. When we chose to compare ourselves to others, we join society’s hierarchy that places humans into categories of winners and losers.
They have told us its dog eat dog out there. Those of us who believe this see others as competitors who must be outmaneuvered and defeated, or they will deprive us of further gain. Our pursuit of the next promotion, the new car and the bigger house does a good job in desensitizing us and we learn to see the people who surround us with the alternating prisms of love and hate.
I am familiar with that life. I lived it until I realized it was robbing me of my humanity. I had to stop.
I know that every human has the capacity for good, but, like I did in the past, have lost touch with what Abraham Lincoln called “the higher angels of our nature”. To rekindle the flames of our goodness, we must reawaken the compassion that lives within us. This is how we assure a better world for the next generations.
1. Become informed about what is happening in the world around you.
It is true what they say about knowledge being power. Knowledge allows us to replace erroneous, perceptions, beliefs and values with correct ones. When we are well informed, we can make better decisions. It is important, therefore, that we know about what is happening to our family, friends, community, state, nation and the world.
Being aware of what your friends, neighbors and family members are experiencing takes engaging with them and listening to them with your heart when they reach out. On a larger scale, listening to your local news gives you a good perspective on what is going on in your community.
It is also important to know the parts of the world that are war torn, where there is famine and unlivable poverty, where governments exploit and oppress their people. These are the circumstance that are causing large migrations of humans. There are also places where climate change is causing humans and animals to move. There is much more, but this is a start.
To become informed, you need good sources. I find the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and National Public Radio (NPR) to be credible and reliable sources of world news.
Knowledge moves you into action.
2. Imagine yourself in place of those who are suffering.
In 1943, Psychologist Abraham Maslow introduced the now famous Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in his paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”. He did so as a way of portraying the evolutionary phases of the human spirit.
Maslow contends that humans must meet their most basic physical needs—food, water, housing, safety for themselves and family—before they can advance to higher pursuits like belonging to a community, experiencing hope, joy, generosity, and helping others.
What I have never understood, however, is why some of us—even after we have more than met our basic needs—become fixated with the idea that others are out to steal them from us. Maslow did not account for the fact that the fear of losing one’s security would cause mass numbers to protect it, even if that meant keeping others from living a better life.
Now imagine the desperate measures you would take if you could not meet yours and your family’s most basic needs. Only then can you understand what causes people under these conditions to leave everything behind and cast their fortunes in a foreign country. My parents made such a desperate decision when they loaded my brothers and I on a plane bound for the United States to save us from the chaos of Castro’s Cuba. They did so hoping they could give us a better start even if that meant they would never see us again.
Knowing you would do the same under similar circumstances softens your heart and motivates you to want to figure out ways to be of help.
3. Imagine the world through the eyes of a child who needs help.
The sight of children suffering is the most heart wrenching form of human manifestation. This is so because adults know children depend on grownups to care for them. When children suffer at the hands of adults, they suffer a psychological unraveling that will scar their self image because they don’t understand why grownups are misbehaving. More than likely they will assume there is something wrong them that is not worthy of the abuser’s respect, or love. This insidious negative self-belief will impact their entire lives.
When you see the world through the eyes of children, then you know that any willful action by an adult that hurts children is nothing more than child abuse. You would want to put a stop to it.
4. Think of the lessons you want to teach your children.
Our words and actions create the rich legacy we give our offspring. If we want to leave them a better world, then we must teach them that every human being has value. We must do this by example or they will not learn to value the world with the important values of compassion, kindness, generosity, inclusion and love of neighbor.
5. Understand that much has been given to us so we can provide for others.
Have you ever stopped to wander how lucky we are to have been born in the United States and not Syria, Yemen, Honduras, El Salvador or Guatemala? Do you think we are God’s favorite because of where we were born? What did we do to deserve this blessing?
The answer to this question, I believe, we were given this abundance as an opportunity to help those who suffer poverty, famine and oppression, and not because we are more special in the eyes of God than others.. As Maslow believed, it is because we can assure our basic needs that we can turn to help others. We were given this ability; therefore, we must use it accordingly.
Compassion for others is based on a respect that every living being has an important purpose. We have lost that awareness in our incessant hoarding of material things. Each one of us has the responsibility to care for one another, but when we fear losing what we have, we cannot. For Christians, this message is well encapsulated by the words of Jesus, “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
If you are ready to trade in your humdrum life for one of meaning and purpose, subscribe to my free weekly newsletter on my website and receive motivation and encouragement to help you on your way. Share it to help family and friends.