It is not enough to be sympathetic. It will not make any real difference to be just concerned. If our feelings remain only in our hearts for us to feel good about ourselves, we are not making any contribution to humanity.
Compassion is to take action, turning a loving feeling into necessary action. No wonder some say: Compassion is a verb.
We are emotional beings. We are easily moved by sad scenes and stories, and we like to imagine that our heartfelt empathy is sufficient to make a difference. But it isn’t. Not uncommonly we move on with sorrow, pity, anger or hatred without even speaking them out. We first gaze, then we look away. Often we are too busy to think of others, not to mention going about to practise compassion. The traumatized people, animals or environment receive almost nothing from our ‘feeling for them’ or ‘hearts pouring out for them’. Sadness stays as sadness. Devastation and horror continue to make suffering incurable.
The apostle, James, wrote, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” ( James 2:15-16 )
Compassion urges us to step out of our comfort zone. To be compassionate is to be ready for a bit of self-sacrifice in terms of time, money or work, less of one’s own personal interests and more of those of others. In other words, we need to do something to alleviate difficulties or find solutions for problems. Or, at least, to show your care by expressing your views and support: signing petitions, writing comments, making suggestions, making a phone call, offering help. This is no superficiality of the ‘feel good’ self-focus. Compassion rises out of our priorities which reflect who we are, what we do, how we live, our beliefs, purposes and goals in lives; and if we want to act compassionately, we may have to rearrange some of our priorities in life. The concept is about giving without wanting to take back; it is active rather than passive, often not on request. The calculation of deserving or not is absent on a compassionate ground. No easy game. It’s a big challenge.
Yet it is the act of compassion that makes humanity worthwhile, and it gives hope in our increasingly aloof and cruel human world. Talking about love is easy, acting it out requires strength of will, courage and determination. This is why compassion is very powerful–It can heal the soul for it creates deep and transformative connections. It is that much-needed light inside the tunnel. It turns a dream into reality. Our world is reassured of the possibility of betterment. And, in being truly kind and helpful, we feel deeper, happier; and find life more meaningful. The benefit goes to the taker and the giver as well.
During this Easter period, perhaps it’s a fitting time to view compassion as a verb, practising it rather than just having a feeling of kindness, for the disadvantaged or suffering people, animals and our environment.