There are times in life when our behaviour in a situation causes us to question our compassion. Maybe you’ve had a difficult day and someone gets in your way, or you’ve had yet another fruitless argument with your partner about the same old thing. Regardless, it’s time to start thinking about how to become a more compassionate person. What exactly is a compassionate person? It is a person who listens to those around them and seeks to empathize with their situation to better understand where they’re coming from.
Compassion is a learned behavior, and if you struggle with it, then it just means that you can acknowledge your shortcomings and work on them. Here are a few things you can work on right now to help you become a more compassionate person.
Work on your listening skills
In order to have compassion for someone, you need to be able to understand why they are saying what they’re saying. It’s easy to simply hear the words that are coming out of a person’s mouth, but only a person with excellent listening skills can look beyond the words to see what a person is trying to communicate. Active listening skills can help you get to the core of what a person is trying to tell you. It also makes people feel more at ease. It’s easier to communicate when a person feels that they have your complete focus.
Acknowledge your own bias
Even if you grow up in very similar circumstances, it’s important to acknowledge that there are many parts of a person’s upbringing that are invisible to those outside of their family. This means that it’s important to acknowledge that you can never truly know where a person is coming from. Even if they grew up wealthy, there could be hidden traumas from their past that cloud their experience today. Being aware that there will always be parts of people’s pasts to you just don’t know, which is an important step on your journey to compassion.
Acknowledge your privilege
Acknowledging your personal bias is especially important when you are a person who has privilege. In North America, being a member of the dominant culture gives you access to certain unspoken benefits – this is known as privilege. You may have heard of white privilege before, and how certain people refuse to acknowledge that their skin color gives them benefits. In the same way, skin color can be a barrier and a hindrance for someone else. You cannot refuse your privilege, but you can acknowledge it.
Experience something from someone else’s point of view
We’ve all been there before. We catch ourselves being short or annoyed with someone because they get in our way, or inconvenience us, without thinking about what that person is going through. One excellent example for people living in a city are those parents who bring gigantic strollers on to the bus and block the exits. While it’s true that those strollers can get in the way, have you ever thought for a second about how hard it must be to shepherd young children through the busy downtown streets and on public transit? Next time you experience a minor inconvenience, use it as an opportunity to imagine life from the other person’s point of view.
Learn to compromise
One trait of a truly compassionate person is that they know how to compromise. It can sometimes take a lot of work. Compromising involves not only making your position clear, but also understanding the other person’s position enough to figure out a way to find the commonalities between them. Compromise is key to any healthy relationship and it truly relies on compassion in order to work.
Practicing mindful meditation has been shown to help people lead more compassionate lives. Sitting down and spending just a few minutes every day comfortably by yourself has been shown to quiet the mind and allow for critical space when dealing with emotions. There are even apps to help guide your meditation.
Ask questions and engage your curiosity
Being compassionate often means that you are deeply engaged with the lives of others. It’s hard to have compassion if you have no idea where the other person is coming from and the only way to learn is by asking! One way to work on your compassion is to engage with the world around you. Strike up a conversation with a stranger or ask a friend about their new hobby that you haven’t heard much about yet. Even if you’re shy, this is a great way to experiment with stepping outside of your comfort zone.
Open yourself up
Asking questions and being curious is a key part of compassion, but it’s difficult to fully commit to being a compassionate person if you don’t share yourself with others. It’s very difficult for another person to empathize with you if they don’t understand you. Learning how to be more open and vulnerable is a valuable skill. When you put your feelings out in the open, you learn just how wonderful and kind people can be.
Respect the thoughts and feelings of others
If someone shares something with you, it’s important to acknowledge how much effort it may have taken for them to be open with you, and respect their thoughts and feelings. Hopefully, this is something that you’re already good at, but if you aren’t sure, think about working on this in your daily conversations. The next time someone tells you something sensitive, respond with an affirmative statement of your support to let them know how much you care for them.
Challenge your preconceived notions
In order to fully understand others, it’s important to first deal with anything that might be holding you back. This could be things that we think we know about our friends or larger issues – stuff our parents and society told us about certain types of people. One key component of compassion is the refusal to generalize without getting to know people first. The next time you have a knee-jerk reaction towards someone, interrogate it. Question why you had that instant reaction and strive to make less snap judgements in the future.
Compassion can take time! The crucial step is starting. After that, cut yourself some slack if you aren’t seeing improvements quickly enough. It takes time to change your perspective. When you need a bit of reassurance, ask someone closest to you to help you track your progress. Maybe they’ll be able to see something that you did not notice. However, it is important to know that your own opinion of yourself is the most important. Don’t rely on others for constant reinforcement.
Another way to create change in your life is to begin shifting your perspective towards the positive. This is especially useful if your world view tends towards the pessimistic. Being optimistic can be difficult if it’s not your reflex, but luckily, there are things you can do to change that. Every day, write down a few things that you’re grateful for. Even if it seems forced at first, stick with it. The practice of actively searching your mind for positive memories of your day will do wonders for your outlook on life. And once you have that, it becomes easier to see the best in other people as well.
Focus less on money
A few different studies on wealth and social class in America have led to the conclusion that people who are wealthy are often less aware of the thoughts and feelings of others. This is concrete proof of the phrase “money can’t buy happiness.” While it speaks to a general tendency towards compassion declining with advancing wealth, it doesn’t have to be true for everyone.
Have compassion for yourself
As the great RuPaul says, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell can you love somebody else?” Being gentle with yourself, especially if you are going through major life changes, is something that will help both yourself and others in your life. Taking care of yourself will only help you give your best self to others.
The final tip is practice! It’s impossible to improve if you just expect it to happen magically. Living a compassionate life is worth fighting for.