I’ve been seeing and feeling a lot of suffering recently. Why is there so much suffering in the world? Greed, intolerance, self-importance, judgements based on ignorance, and carelessness are a few things that come to my mind. These create poverty and all kinds of other forms of destruction, destruction of self and other.
The effects are far reaching and yet with just a little effort, so much suffering can be prevented and alleviated.
How do we prevent unnecessary suffering? How do we relieve suffering?
In my life, kindness and compassion have made the biggest difference. Especially in the absence of social policies that put into place the necessary structures that allow, assist and even enforce the rights of people to live safe, dignified lives, especially when people are poor, injured, disabled, old, or different in any way.
It was the kindness of a few people that kept me alive when I was near death and became homeless, homeless while disabled and barely functional, spending a year living in and out of a summer cabin that had no water, with an outhouse that was down a slippery slope during a long Canadian winter.
It was the kindness of a few people that made it possible for me to eat, drink and bathe during that year. Kindness I cannot repay, but I can try to pass on, even while housebound, now that I am in safer, medically required housing, housing that was built due to the kindness and compassion of the people from Barrhaven United Church.
Kindness and compassion can be practiced by anyone and everyone and leave such a profound effect on us. Indeed, these practices can change the world. I said “practices” because they are learned skills and behaviors, just like everything we do. And whatever we practice, we get better at.
We could easily decide to practice a random act of kindness each day. When that gets easy, practice two random acts of kindness a day, then three. With mindfulness, it will even become possible to be kind all day long! Try it and see!
Little acts of kindness like opening doors and allowing someone in front of you in line can be fun. Seeing how many people you can make smile in a day is fun!
Is there someone in your life who might need more help? Can you call them up and ask if there’s anything they need that you could do for them? Perhaps you have a couple of hours to spare next week. Maybe you can run some errands, make some phone calls, do some research or help them with some cleaning.
The act of asking instead of being asked is a huge act of kindness! One to be celebrated, especially by the person you ask!
Calling a government representative to ask them to work for the rights and well-being of people is a way of practicing compassion. Signing a petition or volunteering for a social justice or environmental health organization is a form of compassion. There are people and animals everywhere who would love an extra moment of your time. Our planet and inhabitants need all the help we can get now.
Can you imagine how different the world would be if we all practiced kindness and compassion?
Here are a couple of resources that have helped guide me as I learn more about kindness and compassion:
Charter for Compassion
lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.
in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.
to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.
to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.
… “In conclusion, I would like briefly to expand my thoughts beyond the topic of this short piece and make a wider point: individual happiness can contribute in a profound and effective way to the overall improvement of our entire human community.
Because we all share an identical need for love, it is possible to feel that anybody we meet, in whatever circumstances, is a brother or sister. No matter how new the face or how different the dress and behavior, there is no significant division between us and other people. It is foolish to dwell on external differences, because our basic natures are the same.
Ultimately, humanity is one and this small planet is our only home, If we are to protect this home of ours, each of us needs to experience a vivid sense of universal altruism. It is only this feeling that can remove the self-centered motives that cause people to deceive and misuse one another.
If you have a sincere and open heart, you naturally feel self- worth and confidence, and there is no need to be fearful of others.
I believe that at every level of society – familial, tribal, national and international – the key to a happier and more successful world is the growth of compassion. We do not need to become religious, nor do we need to believe in an ideology. All that is necessary is for each of us to develop our good human qualities.”
~ The Dalai Lama