Have you ever been faced with a situation of hearing about someone suffering from a devastating event and been puzzled by WHY some people can show compassion and others can’t?
As it turns out, there is a reason for that! Compassion is more than just a feeling. It is also a CAPACITY as well as a SKILL.
Compassion is defined as follows:
NOUN: a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.
It becomes a verb if we show this feeling toward someone else. If we say, “She is a compassionate person” the word becomes an adjective.
Let’s look at an example. Suppose you hear on the news of a small child finding a gun in a home and accidentally shooting himself.
This is a devastating situation. However, you will see a variety of responses in the community ranging from compassion, empathy, and sorrow on one end of the spectrum to outrage, distain, and hostility on the other end.
Why does that happen?
As it turns out, our responses vary for many reasons, but one of the reasons is that compassion is a feeling as well as a CAPACITY and a SKILL.
Experts who specialize in “compassion research” at Berkeley have found that people who have heightened states of distress have a harder time displaying compassion:
“It turns out that feeling safe is a precondition to activating biological systems that promote compassion.”
Sometimes we can understand…AND have compassion for the “compassion-less” by having a sense of curiosity about what is underneath the surface of the inability to show compassion. Is it stress? Previous exposure to gun violence? A sense of helplessness with the current political environment? Does the person feel unsafe? Sometimes we can’t point to the reason, but chances are there is something lurking underneath the surface.
In order to make sense in the world, we need both sides. We need those who will rescue the person and bind up their wounds. But we also need people who will forge the path to make changes in our society. Embracing one without the other puts us at a disadvantage in our society.
I believe that one of the primary reasons that we have the capacity to show compassion at all is because we were created in the image of God and God is by His very nature is compassionate:
“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.” Psalm 103:8 (NASB)
And while we have the capacity to show compassion as a people, we don’t always do so because compassion is a not just a feeling, but it is also a spiritual discipline, a skill, and a conscious choice.
My encouragement to you today is to be kind and compassionate…even when dealing with others who are having difficulty displaying compassion.