The other day a friend was sharing with me the trouble he sometimes has feeling for others the kind of compassion that he knows Jesus would want him to.
“I want to love everyone,” he said. “But sometimes I’m talking with a person, or just watching someone, or whatever, and I realize that the feelings I’m having toward that person aren’t very compassionate. I try, but sometimes it’s hard for me not to just be angry.”
So that got me thinking about some of the things anyone can do to increase their level of compassion for others.
I think the first, easiest, and most effective way of opening up your capacity for loving others is to really, really listen to people. Listen to their pain; watch for their discomfort; become aware of all the little signs that people are constantly giving off that they’re unsure, afraid, confused, defeated. Allow your love, empathy, and compassion to be triggered by those signs. Let your heart feel the fullness of the suffering of others.
Contrarily, an outstanding way to develop compassion for others is to observe how strong people are, how valorous, how brave, how confident, how loving, how much fun.
There isn’t a person in this world who, within a minute of being with them, won’t do or say something for which you can genuinely love them. Maybe it will be the way they smile. Maybe you’ll be able to appreciate how kindly they treat others. Maybe you’ll find charming the way they keep their possessions so tidy and organized — or the way they don’t, ever. (Personally, I’m invariably touched at a very deep level by the way people move their hands; there’s just something elementally compelling that happens in my heart when I focus in on that infinitely elegant little ballet.) All that sort of stuff — just the regular, everyday things about the way people are and live — can be entirely endearing. All you have to do is let them be so for you.
Finally (and this would be for you religious types), develop the practice of viewing people not through your eyes, but through the eyes of God within you. None of us can help but to at least in some degree see others in terms relative to ourselves: Is this or that person better looking than we are? More successful? Happier? More powerful? Less powerful — and on and on and on. Making those kinds of relative evaluations of others is entirely natural. It’s an instinct. It’s part of what we do when we interact with or observe others. But it also tends to make us feel toward others critical instead of loving.
We see people in relative terms. God, however, sees them in only one way: with love.
With the help of the Holy Spirit (or in whatever religious tradition you might understand the power and presence of God or the Higher Nature within you), we can see them that way, too.
Let’s make a point of daily praying for the patience and wisdom to do just that.