You’re on the freeway in a traffic jam that goes on for miles. You look in your rearview mirror and see a vehicle with flashing hazard lights driving cautiously along the inside shoulder trying to pass you.
What do you do?
Do you try to block them, thinking they are trying to beat the traffic and get ahead of you? Or do you let them go, thinking they may have good reason for what they’re doing?
A compassionate person would let them go. A selfish person would believe the worst, scream and swear and try to block them.
This happened to some friends of mine while they were trying to get to their daughter’s side after she’d been involved in a head-on collision. The other driver did his best to force them to stop. They had to drive down an embankment and push through the brush in the ditch to get around him and back up to the road. No other drivers in all that long line of cars did what that one man did.
When they reached the scene of the accident it was a nightmare of twisted metal, firefighters, paramedics, and flashing lights. As they waited for the helicopter to air-lift their daughter to hospital they saw the truck that had tried to block them passing slowly by. The driver’s face was burning red and he never made eye contact.
We all make mistakes. We all have bad days. We don’t know that driver, so it’s impossible to say if he is hostile in general or not, but our actions do tend to reflect our heart attitude. Let‘s talk a little bit about developing compassion so we don’t end up like road-rage guy.
Compassion takes the focus off just our own feelings. It means having warm empathy and mercy for others. It is the opposite of apathy, selfishness or hostility. It defuses touchy situations, keeps the peace, and leads to better communication and solid relationships.
We develop compassion by asking ourselves, ‘How would I feel in this situation if I were the other person?’ More importantly, even if you don’t totally understand their point of view, you can never go wrong by being kind and not making the situation worse. A compassionate person dignifies others and looks for their good qualities and intentions. They have a habit of giving people the benefit of the doubt and showing empathy.
Let’s face it, we all have challenges, faults, and sometimes, baggage from our past. Most people’s reactions are because of those problems. Their behavior is not always about what is happening in the moment. Remembering that helps us keep our perspective, even when others seem unreasonable or wrong from our point of view. It helps us not to take things personally, which will help our state of mind.
That doesn’t mean we never ask for clarification if someone does something we find offensive. It does not mean we must alter our personal boundaries. Sometimes we must temper compassion with street-smarts to avoid being taken advantage of. You can be understanding without being a doormat… and sometimes what you understand is that an individual or action doesn’t deserve your compassion. That’s okay.
But what good is compassion for others if we don’t have self-com- passion?
When you get in the habit of thinking of others kindly, you are more likely to extend that to yourself. I’m not talking about making excuses for yourself so you can continue doing something destructive, but don’t beat yourself up so much that you give up trying. Be kind inside your own head. Another thing about not thinking the worst of others is that you won’t automatically take for granted they’re thinking the worst of you, or that you are being judged. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies because we think other people are thinking things they’re not thinking at all. Be kind, be patient, even with yourself.
Compassion gives us, and those around us, the space to do better.
Having a compassionate view of life leads to a calmer and happier state of mind and a sense of purpose in life. Not only will you enjoy the company of others more, they will enjoy being with you.