The idea of being a good person is often based on morals and ethics, which are often subjective. Practicing compassion is a positive and achievable goal. Learning how to develop compassion is an essential life skill which contributes not just to others’ happiness, but also to our own happiness.
Many people struggle with the concept of being “good”. This sounds like a worthwhile endeavour for anyone. Though, there is a significant challenge with this. Being a good person is often linked to ethics and morality. Ethics and morality are ideas that are taught to us. We may feel as though we are failing at being good people, as many of us have been subject to indoctrination.
For example, a person who performs charitable work is a good person, right? That would seem to be an appropriate assumption. Though, what if this charity worker was merely performing this work to be viewed as a good person, though her heart was not really in it? Maybe she was taught that good people do charity work. Perhaps, the charity worker ceases to do further charity work, because in the end, she really doesn’t get anything out of it, especially when the praise for her “goodness” ceases.
On the other side of coin, imagine that a son fails to call his mother and he knows that his mother would be upset by this. Maybe the son just got busy at work, but he feels guilt and shame over failing to call his mother, resulting in him feeling like he is a bad person. After all, his mother taught him that good sons call their mothers. What if instead of calling his mother, he internalizes his shame and guilt further because he deems himself to have failed at being a good person. Maybe he ends up not calling his mother and distancing himself further from her for some time.
The above scenarios are only a couple of examples of the types of problems that can arise from indoctrination. However, there are bound to be endless complications that stem from indoctrination. The good news is that there is another way to override the perils of indoctrination.
The problem is not so much in the concept of ethics and morality in themselves. The problem lies in the interpretation of what is good and how we apply these concepts in our lives. Perhaps practicing compassion is a more useful approach which may serve to shift the mindset of those struggling to be good people.
Practicing compassion may be more attainable with more fulfilling results. Often, when we struggle to be good people, it is because we are internalizing all the the things we believe we are doing wrong. This is not helpful in our pursuit of goodness. When a person practices compassion, they exercise a true concern for their own well-being, as well as others, in turn, increasing happiness. The Dalai Lama, says
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” ~ Dalai Lama
Generally, when practicing compassion, the ultimate goal is happiness for ourselves and others. Recall the example of the son who does not call his mother. Imagine that he shifts his perspective to one of compassion. Maybe he will think about how disappointed and sad his mother would get, when he doesn’t call her. Rather than internalizing a sense of badness, maybe out of true love and concern for his mother, he will call her and apologize for the delay without feeling guilt and shame. With respect to the charity worker, perhaps she could find an activity that truly speaks to her heart, in turn, be a more loving and generous person when giving her time to others.
When seeking a sense of goodness, it is helpful to develop compassion and to implement a practice of compassion into our lives. There are many ways to develop compassion and several actions that can be taken to practice compassion. To get stated, here are seven ways to develop and practice more compassion in life:
Meditation is a powerful tool to increase the kindness we show to ourselves and others. Meditation does not need to complicated and lengthy, nor does it have to have a fancy name. We can merely imagine that we are well and that others are well too. Meditation can be performed on a walk to work or while doing the dishes. Meditation can be done in a quiet place with slow deep breathing while visualizing wellness for ourselves and others. Essentially, meditation can be done anywhere. Meditation helps us to not just focus on ourselves but also on others, thus generating more compassion for others and ourselves.
2. Be present
Engaging in more presence in our daily lives has benefits. Take notice of the beauty all around, such as: the sun shining; the rain falling; and, the flowers blooming. When we notice such things, we see that the things around us are interconnected. Noticing people around us and being present with people we spend time with increases our connection to others. When we put down our phones or gadgets and listen attentively to people, we are more present. Engaging in being present helps us to feel connected to our surroundings and others, which naturally increases our compassion.
3. Exercise gratitude
It is important to be grateful for what we have, rather than focusing on what we don’t have. If we can be grateful for all things big and small, then our quality of life increases. Whether it be health, a roof over our heads or our families, it is important to be grateful for all of this. Otherwise, we miss all the wonderful things that happen in our lives on a daily basis because we are busy focusing on things we don’t have. Gratitude raises our happiness quotient. When we are happy, we have the capability of being more compassionate and when we are more compassionate, we are more happy. It is a win-win situation.
4. Shift perspective
It is natural to believe that what we believe is the ultimate truth, thus causing conflict and reducing empathy for others. When we refuse to budge from our own positions on a particular matter, no amount of evidence to the contrary will change our minds. This refusal to budge becomes a hindrance to compassion. Instead, it would be wise to step back and try to see the situation from another person’s point of view. Asking questions and being curious about different standpoints helps us to shift perspective. While we still may not completely stray from our beliefs, at least we will have more understanding of another’s point-of-view. We may find the lines between the two perspectives are more blurred and that there are more commonalities than expected. When there are commonalities, there is a gentler interaction and more compassion.
5. Suspend judgment
It is easy to judge our own behaviour and others’ behaviour. Realistically speaking, people don’t always behave in a manner that we approve of. We could not possibly understand all of the ins-and-outs of why others behave the way they do. Rather than placing shame and blame on others, a more peaceful stance would be to suspend judgment. We do not know the demons other people fight each day. If someone wrongs us, it is rarely about us, but about themselves and their internal struggles. Sometimes it is better to let things be and let go of the outcome. When we step back and suspend judgment, we become more compassionate.
6. Learn to forgive
Forgiveness helps us to let go of past wrongs that keep us from moving forward. Forgiving ourselves and others helps us be more at peace in our lives. We are more open when we forgive others and ourselves, because we don’t build up walls as a means of protection. When we are more open, we can interact freely and without censorship. We are less fearful and the quality our relationships are better. When we cease to be stuck in past wrongs, we are more caring, empathetic and compassionate.
7. Be of service to others
Helping others shifts our focus from ourselves to others. When we focus too much on ourselves, it is easy to notice a multitude of problems. Whether we choose to volunteer or help a family member, when we are of service to others, not only do we make another person’s life easier, we also gain some perspective. When our focus widens, our perceived problems appear to be less so. We also get the feel-good endorphins when we help others which follows with a more compassionate view of others and our lives.
To conclude, developing and practicing compassion is an achievable endeavour that all of us can integrate into our lives. The key word is ‘practice.’ To master anything, it requires practice. If practiced bit-by-bit, compassionate actions become easier and more natural over time. If the rewards for practicing compassion include greater happiness, fulfilment and a general sense of goodness, then the practice of compassion may well be the greatest achievement of our lives.