Feeling compassion is easy. We all feel sympathy or concern for the misfortunes of others at one time or another. We see these stories every day on the news, and as humans, it's impossible NOT to feel badly for these victims. We can do it while we're sitting comfortably in our homes. But being compassionate? That takes a lot more effort.
Compassion exemplified would be Kayla Mueller, the 26 year old from Arizona who had devoted her young life to helping others. She cared deeply about helping relieve suffering of people who could not help themselves. She volunteered for an organization working to save Darfur while in college, worked with the homeless in Arizona, then on to give humanitarian aid in India, Israel and, finally, in Syria, where she helped families displaced by civil war, then was kidnapped, held hostage and then, sadly, died at the hands of terrorists.
Kayla Mueller practiced a level of compassion that few ever will. Does that make the rest of us less compassionate?
I say no.
The world needs Kayla Muellers, but not everyone is meant to BE a Kayla Mueller. I say we have to seek our own level of compassion.
My friend Deena is compassionate about animals, particularly cats. She lives in Fresno and works in an area with a large feral cat population. She sets traps for the ferals, gets them neutered, takes them home to recuperate, then works to socialize them and find them homes, funding all of it herself. Yes, there is still a large population of ferals, but there are less than there were, because Deena has made a difference. Little by little, she is slowing the population growth of the colony. She takes in mama cats and their litters, rejoices for them when she finds them a forever home, weeps over them when they are ill and pass away.
We can't all be Deenas, either. But some of us can be like Thomas. He is a volunteer for the American Red Cross and has been for years. The mission of the Red Cross itself is that it exists to provide compassionate care to those in need. Thomas does that. As a trained volunteer, he responds to disasters, from tornadoes to ice storms to house fires. (By the way, did you know the Red Cross responds to every house fire and provides emergency assistance for food, clothing and shelter?) He helps at the office and with special events. He shares his time and talents tirelessly.
And you know what else is compassion? It's buying some extra canned goods at the grocery store (the good brands, not the generic stuff) and donating them to the local food bank. It's volunteering at your child's school. It's taking in foster puppies for the local humane society, even if you wondered what you'd gotten yourself into at the time. It's baking hundreds of cookies for a show choir camp snack rather than picking up store-bought cookies from Walmart. It's holding a door open for the next person, even if you have to stand there awkwardly because your timing was off. It's making eye contact and smiling as you're walking through the mall, just to make people smile back.
It's seeing a need and fulfilling it.
That's a level of compassion we can all be.
A little seed of an idea was planted earlier this year by Yvonne Spence. She and Lizzi Rogers watered it, and it grew into 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion. Look for #1000Speak on Twitter.