The Practice of Compassion

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Compassion in daily life 

The path to genuine co-operation is through sincere compassion and love.

Sometimes we misunderstand compassion as being nothing more than a feeling of pity. Compassion is much, much more. It embraces not only a feeling of closeness, but also a sense of responsibility. When you develop compassion, it will help you enormously to generate inner strength and self-confidence, and to reduce your feelings of fear and insecurity. So compassion and love, embodied in an attitude of altruism, are qualities that are of tremendous importance for the individual, as well as for society and the community at large.

Here we look briefly at but two of the many arenas in which the ethical impact of our interactions with others derives from a foundation of compassion and altruism.

Example: the workplace

Are you surprised to hear the workplace mentioned as an arena for cultivating compassion? Is compassion an obstacle to success in your work life?

Quite the opposite. Without compassion, the Dalai Lama warns, we lose sight of the impact of our actions on others and can inadvertently cause harm.

The ethic of compassion helps provide the necessary foundation and motivation for both restraint and the cultivation of virtue. When we begin to develop a genuine appreciation of the value of compassion, our outlook on others begins automatically to change. This alone can serve as a powerful influence on the conduct of our lives.

Does the relationship between your personal values and those of your employer affect your happiness? If so, how?

What are the main sources of dissatisfaction at work and how can you cope with them? How do you deal with conflicts with coworkers and bosses? How do you deal with jealousy, anger, or hostility at work? Does lack of freedom, unfair criticism, or demanding situations affect your equilibrium?

In the world

Reflect on situations in your daily life where compassion for another would facilitate happiness for both yourself and the other person. In thinking of scenarios, challenge yourself to look at situations where the idea of bringing kind-heartedness feels challenging. (The workplace may be such an environment.) Explore your resistance, your apprehension. Look into the situation to see if your normal response really brings happiness to you — that is, whether you are being compassionate to yourself.

This reflection touches on our resistance to acting with empathy and compassion "in the real world."

Do you feel resistance to the Dalai Lama's challenge? Do you fear you will be burned out? Burned by others?

These are realistic fears, and the Dalai Lama urges us to remain aware of them. He also cautions against going through the motions — acting generously because we think it's the thing to do.

What might the results of "going through the motions" be — for you and for those you are engaging with?

If we act without awareness of our motivation and without sensitivity to those we are interacting with, we can easily end up indifferent to their suffering — just the opposite of our purported goal.