Guided by some of our favorite thinkers, researchers, and writers, including Dalai Lama XIV, Nelson Mandela, the Center for Nonviolent Communication, Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg, and Dr. Kristen Neff, here are just a few important lessons we learned about compassion this month.
Empathy + Sympathy + Action = Compassion
It’s not that simple of an equation when put into practice, but this is a helpful way remember the distinctions between empathy, sympathy, and compassion — terms we sometimes use interchangeably. Compassion involves sympathy (recognizing that someone is in pain), empathy (feeling someone’s pain), but also acting to alleviate them of pain or suffering. While noticing and feeling are essential steps, compassion asks us to act beyond that.
We consider the differences between empathy, sympathy, and compassion in this month’s Digital Compassion Guide.
Compassion is connection.
Compassion underlines the way in which we are all connected in our human experience. It reminds us that we all want to be loved, to feel content in life, to live a meaningful existence, and sometimes we need help from others to do so. Or at the very least, we can all benefit from a little kindness. Pema Chödrön writes, “True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those less fortunate than ourselves, but from realizing our kinship with all beings.” We couldn’t agree more.
We are reminded of the powerful connection built into the practice of compassion with this month’s Compassion Art (inspired by this very quote!).
Consider the difference between expressing a thought vs a feeling.
Many of our lessons this month come from our readings about Nonviolent Communication (NVC), a amazing tool for understanding and expressing our feelings in order to more compassionately resolve conflict. One aspect of NVC that struck us was the distinction between expressing a thought vs a feeling.
You may be familiar with this pop culture trope: A couple is sitting on a couch arguing, sometimes in a couples therapy session, and one person begins a sentence with, “I feel like you ____________.” This sentence formation often comes from a (totally valid) recommendation to lead with one’s feelings. But when we begin a sentence with “I feel…” we’re not necessarily expressing a feeling, we may be describing a thought about how someone is or tends to behave towards us. This distinction is important because it shifts the focus from how we’re actually feeling onto the other person’s behavior, which often leads to placing blame. Which takes us to our next lesson….
Don’t play the blame game.
One of the most important things NVC teaches about conflict resolution is to do our best to avoid unintentionally placing blame on the other and instead focus on how our needs are or aren't being met. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn't encourage the other to take responsibility and that we're always to blame. But focusing on our needs and feelings instead of pointing to the other person's actions offers us a much more compassionate way to move toward a resolution.
So, for example, instead of lamenting the fact that your partner never does the dishes, try to focus on your need to be respected and supported in your relationship, and how your partner’s actions (or in this case, lack of actions) make you feel. When possible, try to share those needs and feelings with as much honesty and kindness as possible.
We go deep into the practice and implementation of Nonviolent Communication in this month’s Digital Compassion Guide and share continued readings in our Curated Resources (a stellar double-whammy, if you ask me).
Start with the self.
At certain points in our life, showing ourselves compassion may be much more challenging than showing others compassion. For lots of different reasons, we hold ourselves to a higher standard of perfection than we do even those immediately around us. According to Dr. Kristen Neff, a leading researcher in the psychology of self-compassion (such a cool job!), cultivating self-compassion involves: 1) Showing ourselves kindness in the face of failure. 2) Seeing our suffering as part of our larger humanity. 3) Seeking equanimity in our emotions.
We work through an eye-opening activity for practicing self-compassion in this month’s Digital Compassion Guide.
P.S. Holstee Members 👋: Don’t forget to check out this month’s theme page to access all of our great resources and keep Compassion front of mind this month!
Jennifer Lioy is a writer, designer, illustrator, feelings-haver, and all-things-doer at Holstee (technically, the Creative and Community Lead if anyone's asking). She lives in Austin, TX and wishes she could eat breakfast tacos every day. If given the chance, she will corner you in a bar to ask you what you’re afraid of.
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