For me, that curiosity represents the first step toward understanding another person’s perspective, and it’s that understanding that enables compassion.
Post by Jason Repovs
We live in an amazing age – never in history have we had more access to tools, technology and information than we do today. As I finished school and entered the workforce however, I noticed that despite all this, I still carried stress with me on a daily basis.
I’ve always believed that we’re each responsible for finding our own happiness and peace in life, whatever form that takes. Part of my search for these things has led me to examine my life through a variety of different lenses with the goal of finding my passions. Ultimately, here’s what I learned: I’m most passionate about the arts (photography and karate, among others), personal finance, travel and helping others in their career.
As I was thinking about why I’m passionate about these things though, I realized that they all had one thing in common: in one way or another, all of them play a role in my view of what I need in my life to be happy and at peace. This is the reason that I’ve decided to write about personal finance, the arts, travel and careers with an eye toward personal happiness, peace and fulfillment
A while back…
…in preparation for my black belt grading in karate, I wrote a post about what a black belt means to me. Since then, certain facets of what it means to be a black belt have taken on added importance to me. The most prominent among those is compassion.
What exactly is compassion?
Merriam-Webster defines compassion as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress, together with a desire to alleviate it.” That’s a pretty solid definition; turns out though, that it’s way more difficult than it sounds to A) Have sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress, and B) Have a desire to alleviate it.
If that makes me sound like a bad person, fair enough. But here’s the thing: it’s not that I’m not sympathetic. It’s that I’m not consciously sympathetic as often as I want to be. Think about it: can you honestly say that you’ve paused to think about what that homeless guy on the street deals with on a daily basis? Can you honestly say you’ve done something about it?
How about when your co-worker treats you like garbage at the office. Is your first reaction to think “maybe this isn’t about me, maybe they’re going through something or just having a really bad day?” Or it something more like “You can’t talk to me like that! If you want to be mean, I’ll be mean right back.”
My wife described compassion pretty eloquently, in that it’s a lot like forgiveness; it only really counts when it’s hard to do. Anybody can pretend to practice compassion by tossing coins into a Salvation Army bin; don’t get me wrong, there’s value in monetary contributions. They make real work happen. But that isn’t conscious sympathy, that’s unconscious sympathy. You’re basically enabling others to practice compassion.
My personal challenge
For me, my focus, the area of myself I want to improve on, is the conscious side of compassion. It’s sitting down and having a meal with the homeless guy, even though I’m not great at conversation. It’s giving the benefit of the doubt to that angry co-worker. And it’s understanding that that guy who injured my neck two years ago probably feels as bad about it as I do.
These things shouldn’t be remarkable; but in an age where we can’t go five minutes without burying our faces in our phones, it is. Few people bother to look up from their phones long enough to consider another person’s position.
This stuff doesn’t come naturally to me, either. But like anything else, it’s like a muscle; it can be trained, and strengthened over time, to the point that it starts to feel natural. That’s why I continue to train karate, as strange as it sounds. Every time I step into the dojo – every time I put that black belt on – I’m reminded of what I’m working on, and why. When I’m refining a particular kata in the dojo, I’m not just refining the kata; I’m refining me. I’m reminded of the other parts of myself that need polishing.
Wrapping it up
I have a long way to go before I feel like I’m where I want to be in terms of compassion; that’s why I call it my Compassion Project. I’ve made progress though – my mind no longer automatically rushes to think about the worst-case scenario of a situation or person. Instead, it’s begun to wander, like a curious child exploring its surroundings. For me, that curiosity represents the first step toward understanding another person’s perspective, and it’s that understanding that enables compassion.
I may not be where I’d like to be, but I’m on the journey. So what about you, is there an area of your life you’re working on? How about sharing it with me in the comments?Guest article by Dapo black belt (2º nidan) and alumni Jason Repovs. Originally published in Zen and the Fishbowl.