Monday, 23 July 2012

Is compassion a natural trait of humans?

Increasingly I have been wondering whether compassion comes naturally to humans. I say this because I observe in myself and many others that compassion does not come quite easily. But we are led to believe that one ought to be a fountain of love and compassion. Though it is ideal that one should feel compassionate, most of the times it has to be coaxed. Taking an instance from my own life: If I have some free time, I would like to use it to do what I want rather than helping out someone with their studies or babysit. I would like to spend the time without doing anything but since being compassionate is the most ideal thing to do, I would force a smile and accept the given task. Notice how I say "task" and not 'favour.' I am aware that since I am free, I have time on my hands BUT I am unwilling to give up that time. Isn't that being selfish?

When I do see some people always ready to do something for others, I wonder whether it comes naturally to them or are they feigning compassion and forcing themselves to behave in a certain way because it raises their self-esteem. When I see an avalanche of quotes, sayings and messages on giving, caring and losing oneself for the cause of others, it is affirmed that these sayings are reiterating something that is becoming sparse.



Compassion, I reckon, has to be cultivated over time until finally it ceases to become forced and comes naturally. Aristotle rightly commends, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." Perhaps Aristotle's wisdom holds good for any trait be it excellence or compassion. Now I guess what I should be doing -- Cultivate compassion which is not a natural trait in me.

Well, readers, what do you think of this topic.

Image: Internet

P. S: Since I don't have internet at home, I am forced to forgo the pleasure of reading and commenting on your blogs. I hope this condition alters and I can resume joyfully commenting on your delightful posts. Hope you don't much mind my absence and continue to think of me when you write posts you know that I would have loved to read. You are always on my mind.

40 comments:

  1. I agree completely with you, Susan. I don't think compassion comes naturally to us. We're programmed to be selfish for our own survival. But our minds allow us to rise above our biology and show kindness and empathy and generosity and compassion. To feel another's suffering and to help and work to lessen it - it's not something that comes easily - if it did, we'd be a very altruistic species. But there are people I see every day who are fountains of love and compassion, and I am certain they've worked for it and learned it. And that gives me hope. :)

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    1. Exactly my thoughts, K. I wonder if animals (excluding humans) possess this trait. Yes, like everything else, I guess one needs to cultivate this one.

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  2. Hi,

    I believe u have it (compassion) within you already.....and there's nothing wrong about choosing to be there for yourself on your free time. When we do something for someone outside the ring it's bcos we feel them to be so important for us!!

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    1. Welcome here, Suba. Glad to have you here. Thanks for having such faith in me without even knowing me. Your comment made me smile and think.

      Come by when you find the time.

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  3. Dear Susan, no internet at home, how can you cope?;) I do not think I can even imagine that.;) And how do you post, from work?
    As for compassion, to me that means more to feel for someone in need, when we are capable to do something, but when it is not expected of us. To give, to share, to help, to protect. It is in my mind not a planned deed, but an unselfish random act, that happens in the spur of a moment. It is also to me the capability to understand and perceive when a person is in need of such an assistance, and the capability to envision their predicament as if it was our own.
    I think those that dedicate their lives to help others, or their spare time, do so for selfish reasons indeed - for the enjoyment it brings them for having done something good.:)))
    Thnak you for finding the time to stop by and leaving the most eloquent comment for me today my dear friend, especially as being on-line does not come easily to you these days.:)
    Have a great week,
    xoxo

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    1. Zuzana, I'm coping anyway. It's a bit difficult but I have no choice at the moment. When I go to the internet parlour, I spend a lot of time and complete most of the things I have to.

      Somehow, I wonder whether it is a random act. Many times it is a conscious choice, I reckon. Maybe things are different.

      Thanks for your warm visit, dear Zuzana.

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  4. Susan, although I didn't misunderstand you, I don't see why you should feel guilty for using this time for yourself. I say this because I had a similar time in my life and it was expected that being the spare tool around, I was supposed to make life easier for everyone else. I do believe that compassion starts with oneself - are we being good to ourselves first. Only then can we reach out and give to others.

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    1. The 'me' time is definitely there but I thought that having compassion and giving up that time for someone else calls for greater self. Maybe it wasn't a good example.
      You have a different point of view towards compassion, Corinne. I think that man of us understand compassion at different levels. Am I making sense, here?

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  5. maybe compassion comes to us naturally but we dont really do anything about it - i feel compassionate about so many issues - tears well up in my eyes, i feel genuine misery - but don't do any significant about it :(

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    1. Yuvika, that compassion which we feel naturally is perhaps an emotional response to pain and suffering. I think if we possess compassion, we will find ways for doing something about what has moved us. I don't even feel moved and therefore this post :)

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  6. Hmmm!!! Compassion and sharing must have developed when we were still roaming the savanahs as primate groups and the survival of the species depended on it. With modern times we can be selfcontained and still be happy. We dont necessarily have to give off ourselves-more of ourselves than we are comfortable with. Its better to be true to yourself (even if others call it selfish) then pretend to be something you are not...if it comes, it comes...dont push it.

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    1. Doktor, even though your perception seems logical, I cannot seem to think that we don't need it at all. Being better to oneself is always there but going a little beyond that is something. I am trying to understand that.

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  7. Susan, I so thoroughly understand your concern about compassion. I've been harboring questions about that myself. I have trouble establishing appropriate boundaries between taking care of myself and responding to another's needs. Sometimes, I do respond, but with resentment. I think this cancels out the compassion. But I keep trying to be sincerely compassionate. I hope you're right, and practice makes perfect.

    Take care, and enjoy your stay with your parents.

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    1. Myrna, you seem to be sharing my inner turmoils and I'm glad that there are many who feel like me. Thanks Myrna, for this.

      We all learn the art with time, I reckon.

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  8. Compassion for others, I believe, is what truly makes us human. No doubt, we are self-centered, self-serving creatures, looking out for our own survival, but that is at our basic level of living. It is in the loving of others that we find fulfillment. Life becomes "living", not simply "existence".
    Great post, Susan! Hope you are back up with the internet soon!

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    1. What a lovely comment, Martha. Your comment states the basis of our living. A lot of questions led me to write this post. I was wondering if love and compassion go hand-in-hand? IS it possible to love without compassion? I guess everything is connected.

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  9. Hm. very interesting point. I always assumed compassion came naturally - as a survival instinct of sorts. You can see compassion in other species (specifically, elephants, dolphins, monkeys) so I look at it as a way to keep a species strong, taking care of each other, adopting orphans, working as a team. Of course, there is a fine line between compassion and enabling, which is how I think people do compassion wrong. Thanks for making me think!

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    1. But the compassion that we observe in animals, it is compassion in the sense we understand it or are we trying to interpret some actions as compassion.
      In fact, I must thank you Erin for making me think about many things related to this topic.

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  10. The thought that one needs to inculcate compassion in oneself in itself is an act of compassion isn't it?

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    1. Hello J,

      You are very kind in your thoughts and words. Thanks. Lovely to see you here.

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  11. I think sometimes our compassion is based on the circumstance. Maybe unselfish and immediate when we see or hear of something tragic but less so over time for something just as tragic but more chronic.
    In the end, we must remember God was always compassionate regardless of whether it was convenient and I know I so struggle with that and need to ask for Him to direct my responses appropriately. What a very thought provoking post,Susan.

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    1. Welcome to the Meanderings, Kathy. God is a great example of everything good and kind but I the more I look up to his qualities, I feel inadequate and incomplete. Perhaps this post is also one of those thoughts which came out of the desperation to emulate the qualities of god.
      I am still trying.

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  12. Intriguing line of thought, Susan. I will agree with Tangled up in Blue - compassion does not come naturally to us but it is in there somewhere and we can definitely learn to access it more frequently and soulfully. However, it is going to be very difficult to show compassion for others at the cost of our misery. That is simply against survival and comes only with a select few.

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    1. Putting the self second is what many compassionate souls do. Somehow, I think that this century puts greater emphasis on the self and we are somehow pulled into that vortex. But to see compassion against survival is something I wonder. This is a topic which has different shades.

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  13. A very thought provoking post. I do think compassion can arise naturally...though so can selfishness. For our struggle to survive I think it's a natural thing for one to look out for oneself first. A "survival of the fittest" kind of thing. But as life has become more assured...less violent and less focused on mere survival (for many of us in the societies we live now) I think compassion is easier to cultivate as we, and our societies have evolved.

    I do think there is a core of goodness within everyone and there are moments of spontaneous compassion and love that flow forth...not motivated by any desires for self but for desires of others...This can be helped along if one is raised in a family/culture that helps nurture and bring forth such qualities by displaying it..I wouldn't say compassion is necessarily a learned behavior but I would say that by watching others display compassion it can trigger within ourselves our natural inclination to be compassionate. If that makes sense.

    Great post!

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    1. That you have observed people and different traits comes out in the very eloquent comment you have written, Jessica. I am quite in awe of your understanding and perception. I am also inclined to thing along your lines in parts. I am still confused by the "trigger within ourselves" part. Somehow coming from a family of people who are very compassionate, I see myself as someone who stands pale in comparison. I have always wondered as to how people like my mother have so much of the trait that comes with difficulty to me.

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  14. Treat others the way you want to be treated by others. Compassion cannot be forced and to me my upbringing and the values taught plays a huge role in being compassionate.

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    1. I definitely treat others the way I want to be treated but does that action come because of compassion or because I want to achieve good karma. I also wonder whether I am compassionate because it seems to be the right thing to do or just because I am compassionate. There is a difference.

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  15. What a beautiful blog you have!
    Other day, I read Dalai Lama on Religion. According to him the meaning of Religion is 'Kindness towards others'.

    I used to see my wife being kind to all human beings and animals,especially those in need and I never entertained the thought that it was "a put on act". Over a period of time I have assimilated some of her compassion and realised that there is much joy in giving.

    I recommend a small book called 'Lights Along The Shore' (google it) to you. It had immense influence on me.

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    1. Dear friend:

      You have visited my blog twice before and I'm honoured to see you here after a very long time. Hope you are well.

      That's precisely I wonder -- How for some compassion flows naturally? Maybe some are made that way.

      Thanks for your recommendation. I will try to look up for the book and maybe also buy it.

      Take care.

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  16. Hi, Susan Deborah! ~

    First, I looked up the definition of the word 'Compassion' which means: "feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering."

    According to this definition, I would say that compassion is called for in crisis situations but not necessarily that you should devote your life to taking care of other people just because you have 'free time'.

    I do think compassion comes naturally to most people, but everyone deserves (and is responsible for creating) their own life, too.

    I agree with Corinne's comments above ;-)

    Thank you for this thought-provoking post!

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    1. Thanks for coming by Linda. Maybe you are right.

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  17. Compassion comes naturally, but so does negativity (criticism, gossip, etc.) There's a balance to it all. Compassion is the motivation to grow as human beings, and the negative aspects of being human are what we need to know what direction to go in.

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    1. How can compassion and negativity come from the same place? Compassion, I reckon is something one should practice consciously.

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  18. I think compassion comes to us naturally. However I think the level of compassion we feel depends on the situation. Also sometimes we act on that compassion sometimes we don't. And that's okay.

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    1. I can hear you, Suzy. Sometimes I don't feel moved at all. Does that mean that I am a cruel being?

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    2. Not at all Susan. If we don't feel moved, it probably means the situation doesn't affect us in any way - we can't feel all the time - we'll go insane, so not feeling anything at all sometimes is a good thing.

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  19. The lack of compassion, for me, has caused pain for others, is compassion, thoughtfulness, and empathy connected? I feel love for others and feel others love me, but because of a lack of compassion, thoughtfulness, empathy, I misplace my priorities and it has hurt other people. I didn't do it on purpose, but I didn’t think about their feelings, it never entered my mind. On reflection had I been thoughtful or compassionate would I have thought of their emotional needs ahead of my current course of action. My answer is yes, I would have done things different. Now that the damage is done how does that person feel when I say “I didn’t even think of you”, it obviously would hurt even more. This is a real life situation for me, not just a post, and I find myself ending a relationship so as to not cause any more emotional pain to one that I love. And yet I question this response, is this the correct course of action, or again am I being selfish and not taking on the challenge of healing and trying to be more thoughtful and compassionate. Very lost at the moment and Susan your post is most timely.

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    1. First off, welcome Roderick to the Meanderings.

      You have posed different points which are very useful if we discuss compassion. I reckon that thoughtfulness and empathy arise out of compassion. You're right when you say that many of our seemingly harmless actions hurt people. How can we stop them? I have been in situations like you have written and only time seems to be the best healer, not words. That you have reflected on your actions shows that you are aware and to a certain extent, also trying to make amends.

      I wish there were more like you. Thanks for the thoughts which also made me think deeply about some questions.

      Joy always,
      Susan

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