Compassion, it’s something we all need if we want the world to evolve rather than devolve. Without compassion, we turn into a society of selfish individual units out for only what benefits us. Unfortunately, what I just described is too familiar these days, but why is compassion so necessary, after all, when it all comes down to it, aren’t we all trying to get what’s best for us anyway, even the most compassionate of us?
There may be truth in that statement. When I find myself doing some good deed out of compassion for someone else, I often find myself thinking about how good a person I am being and how I wish someone would notice. And before you find yourself thinking that I am pretty self-absorbed, think about yourself, you probably do it too. I was listening to a TED Talk the other night given by Daniel Goleman called “Why aren’t we more compassionate?” and he mentioned this same irony that we tend to think about ourselves and how good we’re being even when we are doing something out of compassion.
This ironic turn doesn’t preclude the fact that we need to be compassionate in order to have a world that works. Simon Sinek, in his book Leaders Eat Last, has done a pretty good job of defining why the need to work together in families, tribes, and organizations is primal and how this wiring helps us succeed and survive. So if it is primal and it is necessary to our survival, why aren’t we more compassionate, why is the world moving toward more and more selfishness and self-absorption?
I believe there are many causes. Things like materialism, the increasing perception that fame matters, the growing gap between haves and have nots, the fear of insignificance, and the growth in technology that has created the ability to “connect” without real human connection are all contributors to our growing obsession with ourselves. The technology issue has sped this lessening of compassion because we can now communicate with people without all the clutter of having to really see and hear emotion, we don’t have to react or feel the other person’s feelings, we can simply insert a frowny face and go on about our day. Technology has also made us numb as we see death and destruction regularly whether it’s actual in the news or theatrical in movies and TV shows. We see it and we can dismiss it because it’s far away and not about us directly. Facebook hasn’t helped either because in it we find only the best things. It’s like some kind of Candyland where everybody’s kid just made honor roll, got married or graduated with honors. Everyone’s life is wonderful….really? Not according to the homeless veteran with PTSD who can’t get a job and is hungry on the corner. But we pass him by every day as if he doesn’t exist, and yes, I do it too but I need to rethink that.
What’s my point? Where am I going here?
I am wondering what we all need to do to be more compassionate. What is the secret to moving us from self-obsession to thinking more about others and taking care of those around us?
While I was listening to Goleman’s TED Talk, I caught one thing he said that has resonated for me. He told a story about helping a homeless guy in the subway who had passed out due to hunger. He stopped to help and that act prompted others to help. Goleman said, “all it took was that simple act of noticing” to get this man in a better place. Noticing, paying attention, is that it? Is the jumpstart to more compassion just simply paying more attention to those around me?
This simple idea, noticing, strikes me as the place to start, to be more mindful of the moment and really pay attention to the people around me and what they are dealing with. What is their life like? What are they struggling with?
The secret to compassion….paying attention, no technology needed, no religious awakening needed either, just simply noticing, that’s it. Try it; we could change the world if we’re on this together.