Compassion - What Is It Exactly?

Compassion - What Is It Exactly?

This rant started off being about people hiding behind the “anonymous” option online and the extreme negative nature of some comments posted when we feel that no one knows it is us saying these things. Things are said and sent that we would never ever say in front of our partner, best friend, teacher, brother, parents, grandmother etc. But I guess it has actually evolved from a rant about that into something much more self-reflective with me starting to really understand the true notion, depth and purpose of “compassion”.


While I truly believe those messages (the ones I was originally going to rant about) came from hearts filled with compassion, unfortunately, however, those messages did not communicate compassion, nor did they compassionately communicate. The true spirit of compassion got lost somewhere …  in something … maybe in rebellion, self-importance, peer pressure, aggression, defensiveness, victim mentality, superiority, revolt, defiance, oppositionality, intolerance, judgement, misunderstanding, prejudice, imitation, desire to impress or please, arrogance, misinformation, desire to “fit in”, naivety , or just by mistake – I don’t know. All I know is that the compassion was not conveyed. The intent appeared to be to cause distress, shame and conflict. A compassionate message ? No. A show of compassion ? No.


So what is compassion ?


Let’s start with what it isn’t. It’s not a single action, or even a set sequence or collection of actions. It’s not a religion, a lifestyle, a thing. It’s not quantifiable nor measurable. Compassion is not defined nor described by where we live, what we eat, nor the specific choices we make.


Compassion is a feeling.


According to the online Webster Dictionary ( Compassion is the sympathetic awareness of another’s distress coupled with the feeling of wanting to do something to alleviate that distress.


Therefore a  compassionate act should alleviate distress. 


To add to the distress or suffering of anyone by promoting guilt, intimidation or more distress, or making someone feel bad is not by definition a compassionate act.


Compassion looks beyond the imperfections and differences and sees intrinsic value. Compassion finds a way to give and support instead of demanding a right to take, condemn or intimidate. Compassion recognises that we will all act differently as individuals, but that collectively we are contributing to a better world.


Having compassion-based values makes for more open communication. LESS conflict, animosity and hate should be the result. It is a culture of giving, serving, and doing what we can to meet the needs of others. Values influence our actions. If our values are self-centred in essence, our actions will reflect that – EVEN IF OUR INTENTION IS TO BE COMPASSIONATE.


If we focus less on doing what we can to alleviate or respond to the distress of others, and more on alleviating our own distress discomfort or having others champion OUR cause (the cause we are so passionate about) we run the risk of expressing arrogant passion rather than compassion. Singer and musician Ricky Martin shares the moment when he came to realise this about himself in regards to his involvement in charities in an interview he recently did on Australian TV. . We should all have a look at ourselves and see if we can express our compassion with less arrogance and in doing so empower others to express compassion in different ways. 


You see there is no right or wrong way to do compassion. Compassion isn’t even an action, a thing we can do, it is a feeling, an emotion. We are wise and empathic and know that there is no one way to feel sad – nor is there just one way to express sadness. We also know there are levels of sadness, and that we have no right or reason to tell someone they aren’t feeling sad enough or that they are “too” sad. We need to start giving “compassion” that same value and respect everyone’s individual experience of compassion as unique and valid. So too, we need to respect every individual’s decision as to how and when they express that compassion, humbled by the knowledge that collectively we are all helping the world in some way. The world is a collaborative work in progress and we are all able and NEEDED to contribute in our own unique ways.


Truly expressing compassion is in essence about just doing what we as an individual can do, not about changing the world or changing or judging others. It is about helping in the way that we best can. And letting others express compassion in their own way – because in the whole scheme of things it balances out. In reality we, as individuals, can’t support every single charity or cause that we want to. But if everyone does the little bit they can with the charities and causes they choose to – no cause or charity misses out – and the world inevitably changes – and like Yin and Yang there is that positive yet imperceptible movement toward a better world. The changes can not be seen in a snapshot of the present moment, only when we look back on history can we see how far we have come.


So if I use Ricky as an example, I can honestly say I admire him so much for the work he does for the charities and causes he is involved in. I am so grateful for the effort and his expression of compassion – for it empowers and allows me, and all of us, to express our compassion similarly or even elsewhere, if we choose. There are so many individuals and organisations I admire and respect, simply because of their choice to express compassion and their choice to communicate compassionately.


Compassion is the energy which drives us to help others. To build and support this energy in the community we need to notice what we each can do and are doing. Arrogance detracts from the power and purpose of compassion by focusing on what others (and even ourselves) AREN’T doing rather than what we ARE doing.


 There are as least as many ways to show compassion as there are people on this earth. Here are just 99 to start …


  • 1.     Use your words to encourage not condemn

  • 2.     Give blood

  • 3.     Offer a hug

  • 4.     Give  a smile

  • 5.     Notice when someone is down

  • 6.     Learn first aid

  • 7.     Place a gift under a Giving Tree at Christmas

  • 8.     Offer to help a charity pack food hampers

  • 9.     Offer to help a charity wrap gifts at Christmas

  • 10.  Spend time with someone

  • 11.  Notice when someone is being bullied

  • 12.  Find out more about the world

  • 13.  Pass the happiness forward

  • 14.  Cry when someone is seriously ill or injured

  • 15.  Say “I don’t what to say…” when someone loses a loved one

  • 16.  Look after your pets

  • 17.  Grow a garden

  • 18.  Put rubbish in bins

  • 19.  Recycle

  • 20.  Call someone in hospital

  • 21.  Visit someone in hospital

  • 22.  Visit someone you don’t necessarily know in a nursing home

  • 23.  Ask someone about themselves

  • 24.  Use the words “what can I do to help you ?”

  • 25.  Study hard (you may end up being the scientist that discovers a cure for cancer)

  • 26.  Keep fit (someone may benefit from my organs after I die)

  • 27.  Share

  • 28.  Be honest

  • 29.  Respect others’ cultures, religions and beliefs

  • 30.  Rather than judge someone, accept that sometimes things are the way they are, and we don’t need to know why

  • 31.  Check ourselves for double standards and hypocrisy

  • 32.  Encourage innovation, intellect and creative thinking

  • 33.  Understand our past and learn from the “mistakes” of our ancestors

  • 34.  Give time to a charity

  • 35.  Become a volunteer fire fighter

  • 36.  Become a lifesaver

  • 37.  Help at local animal shelter

  • 38.  Add something positive to someone else’s day

  • 39.  Follow rules

  • 40.  Drive safely

  • 41.  Be considerate

  • 42.  Shave your head for a cure

  • 43.  Sponsor someone shaving their head for a cure

  • 44.  Avoid gossiping

  • 45.  When helping use discretion

  • 46.  Anonymously do nice things

  • 47.  Provide an extra lunch to your school each Tuesday for a child to receive that may need it

  • 48.  Donate old clothes to charity

  • 49.  If someone reaches out, reach back

  • 50.  Plant a seed

  • 51.  Recycle water when you can

  • 52.  Be grateful for what we have

  • 53.  Send/leave someone a note

  • 54.  Spend time with a child

  • 55.  Help rather than hinder other’s growth and success

  • 56.  Let your own light shine brightly

  • 57.  Ask for help

  • 58.  Bring a neighbour’s washing in if it starts to rain

  • 59.  Hold a stranger’s hand in a crisis

  • 60.  Help look for a lost pet

  • 61.  Sign a petition for save the whales

  • 62.  Sponsor a child overseas or in your local community

  • 63.  Give a child a book

  • 64.  Reach out to others

  • 65.  Invite a friend, stranger or family to Christmas lunch

  • 66.  Cheer on ALL athletes

  • 67.  Recognise and acknowledge effort fro effort’s sake

  • 68.  Provide and wash uniforms for a vulnerable child at your local school

  • 69.  Foster a child

  • 70.  Let the lady with the crying kids go in front of you in the supermarket checkout line (and give her a kind smile)

  • 71.  Put your change in charity tins at the register/check-out

  • 72.  Become a politician (you might just make a positive change in the future)

  • 73.  Learn – wisdom is invaluable

  • 74.  Stay with a lost child till they find their parents

  • 75.  Help look for someone or something lost

  • 76.  Say a prayer

  • 77.  Keep someone in your thoughts

  • 78.  Make a wish

  • 79.  Loan someone your thongs in the beach carpark to get across the hot bitumen

  • 80.  Bag your dog’s poo when out on a walk

  • 81.  Bag someone else’s dog’s poo if it has been left

  • 82.  Become a doctor

  • 83.  Become a hospital wardsman, a gardener, a garbage collector…

  • 84.  Become a hairdresser (you can help people going life’s difficulties and dramas feel better about themselves)

  • 85.  Serve others in even the smallest of ways

  • 86.  Sign a petition – any petition that has a meaning for you as an individual.

  • 87.  Be open-minded

  • 88.  Learn another language

  • 89.  Keep yourself fit and healthy (one day someone may need you to be there to help them)

  • 90.  Say “I am so sorry for your loss…” when someone loses a loved one

  • 91.  Step out of your comfort zone occasionally for someone else

  • 92.  Ask your friend “R u OK ?”

  • 93.  Pay to download a charity music track

  • 94.  Be on time

  • 95.  Attend a study group

  • 96.  Learn to love and respect ourselves

  • 97.  Get involved in Earth hour

  • 98.  Be a mentor

  • 99.  Spend your vacation helping at a mission

The thing that complicates showing compassion is that we don’t live in a perfect world, nor do we live in a world designed from scratch by humans.


We live in a NATURAL world with ALL living things including animals and plants, where the laws of nature, the intrinsic design of nature, rules. Humans didn’t “invent” (for selfish, harmful or any other reasons) the food chain, the climate, the geography, cancer, diabetes, genetics or the geology. We live according to a NATURAL ORDER where ALL living things have a purpose.  As humans we were given valuable tools in our physical and neurological make-up to understand and interact with this world in a certain way. The world is not perfect – but there is a perfect balance. This balance, as explained by Yin and Yang, is dynamic and fluid with life being a constant struggle to maintain an equilibrium between the light and dark in a changing living world. The balance now will look different to the balance 500 years ago, 2000 years ago, and it will look different in another 100 years. The thing that drives us to work toward this balance is compassion – the desire to alleviate suffering. But we are all individuals with different ways of doing things, different skills, opportunities, genes etc. It is important we all respect each other’s journeys, purpose and efforts because each and every single one of them is essential to keep the universe in balance.


When the movie “Avatar” came out I can remember watching it and wishing I could be an avatar, one of the Na’vi tribe. I can remember feeling such awe at how the Na’vi seemed to live so compassionately and attune with nature and with such respect for ALL life forms, not just those with beating hearts or the capacity to move through the world in some way. I found a review of Avatar the other day which quite insightfully and creatively puts into words the “Spiritual Lessons of the Na’vi” reflecting compassion in a world that holds dark and light balanced simultaneously.  For me, the first and the last of these are pretty relevant to where the real world is at the moment. 


1. Seeds, trees, animals, insects, water, leaves are all part of the web of life. Everything is alive and conscious and interconnected.


15. The world is a collaborative work in progress in which each individual in the tribe has something to contribute to the whole.


 (The others, to me are also really compelling and provoke much reflection and self-questioning of who I am and what is my place and role in this world – and especially what are my values, what is my individual purpose and how can I as an individual contribute to a better world without judging my own choices and those of others with arrogance – so I have listed all fifteen of them at the end with a link to the author and the article and film review which they came from)



The world really is a collaborative work in progress. How about we simply embrace our differences and allow and empower each other to be and do the best we can right here at this moment … without judgement or condemnation … just care, concern and compassion.




References  From Avatar, Directed by James Cameron. Film Review - By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. "Avatar" 
Directed by James Cameron
, 20th Century Fox 12/09


Spiritual Lessons from the Na'vi

1. Seeds, trees, animals, insects, water, leaves are all part of the web of life. Everything is alive and conscious and interconnected.

2. It may be necessary to kill for food. A clean kill involves a respect and a ritual for any animal that gives itself to you for food and other uses.

 (In my culture, it is easy to live without harming other beings, however in some other cultures it is not so simple. We need to respect this).
3. Even vicious and seemingly violent animals have the right to protect their turf and participate in the dance of life.

4. Having a good heart and being fearless are part of being a warrior.

5. Signs are all around us in nature and in our own experiences: they are meant to be read and interpreted.

6. Using the power within us is the way of the sacred feminine.

7. A greeting is an act of engagement with another. Open and active presence is conveyed by the words "I see you."

8. It is important to listen to the voices of the ancestors.

9. Everyone is born twice: once at birth and once again when he or she earns a place within the community.

10. Energy is pulsating in and through all forms of life.

11. Mother Earth doesn't take sides; she protects only the balance of life. 

12. Healing is an act of the community calling upon the divine.

13. Everyone needs to train in attunement to the spirit in nature.

14. The magical flights of the shaman invoke spirit helpers.

15. The world is a collaborative work in progress in which each individual in the tribe has something to contribute to the whole.

Love and light,
Sjana x