We are all equipped with the innate ability to feel compassion and altruism toward others, right? If that is the case, why is it so hard to feel this supposed natural emotion when we are mad at someone? Its like compassion is turned off like a switch, the moment we get offended or hurt.
Although this has been a controversial issue, it is generally accepted by scientists that we are born with benevolence. But as we age, and gain an increased awareness about people and their motivations, we make assumptions that we don’t even realize we have made, we learn that everyone doesn’t always have our best interest in mind and with this realization, it becomes increasingly more difficult to express these types of positive feelings. It almost feels threatening! Try attempting to feel compassion towards someone this week when you don’t feel that compassion and benevolence is being reciprocated towards you. It’s hard, right?
When someone is hurtful toward us, our minds seem to naturally get stuck on thoughts of how awful that person is and we reason that they simply don’t deserve our compassion. What is the result? We fight (or hurt) back or we distance ourselves emotionally as a means of protecting ourselves from those who hurt us. But is this defensiveness really protecting us? Does fighting back to teach someone their wrongs really help? Do we actually feel better? Do others’ who have wronged us really see that their ways are flawed?
Researchers and spiritual leaders assert that violent, aggressive or otherwise offensive people are really just people whose compassion and benevolence was never developed. Compassion, they say, is really no different than language acquisition. We are all born with the propensity to learn and develop this skill, if placed within an environment that nurtures its development. It would seem then, that people who offend us and/or act with aggression and hostility are people whose sense of compassion was never nurtured and therefore lays dormant, just waiting to be activated.
I think Ghandi said it best when he said “Be the change you wish to see in this world.” Offer compassion even when it is not being received. Set your mind on good things when it’s going down a dark path. Practice compassion with the same kind of discipline that you use to accomplish other challenging goals in this life.
To cultivate compassion when you are having trouble feeling it, set your mind on positive thoughts. Let your attention be drawn toward other positive aspects of your day, other positive relationships in your life and other positive moments that exist. Unstick your mind from the righteousness you feel that only serves to keep you feeling bitter. It is not your job to make others see their wrongs and change their ways. Sometimes, practicing compassion can have more of an impact in this world than any other response you might give in the hopes of seeing change.