Saturday, March 29, 2014

Six Pillars of Civility - Compassion

Over the past few years I have developed the Six Pillars of Civility. In the next six weeks, I am going to explore these six fundamental building blocks of humanity, which in my opinion are crucial to maintaining a civilized society. These qualities are important not only to society as a whole, but also to the communities in which we live, work, and play. I hope these words will give you pause to think about how each of these qualities resonates with you and how each is incorporated into you daily routine.

Compassion for me is the most complex key word. It’s one of those words that many of us do not truly understand. For those of us who do understand and experience compassion, we can find it a real challenge in applying it successfully to people or situations outside of ourselves. It can be even more challenging to have true compassion for ourselves? We set impossibly high standards for ourselves, and when we don't reach them, we beat ourselves up. Perhaps we need to give ourselves a break every once in a while. We are, after all, human beings. We all have frailties. We need to accept this and in fact embrace it. For without these inherent flaws, we would not be the unique and amazing individuals that we are.

In our personal lives, we experience disappointments that can leave us with feelings of unworthiness, sadness, or depression. And we also have the ability to sense these feelings in our friends and family members. As our friends and loved ones experience negative emotions, we can greatly help them work through these difficult times by being present, which is one important way showing compassion. This does not mean we must fix any particular situation, but it does mean we need to show up.

I remember once a friend explaining to me that if given a chance to go to someone’s wedding or go to someone’s funeral, pick the funeral. It is during times of stress that our friends really need us. How often are we there for our friends? How often are we there for ourselves?

Having compassion is also important in our professional lives. We make different interpersonal connections at work than we do socially, with different people and under a completely different set of rules and dynamics. However the underlying principles do not differ.

A friend recently phoned and related to me how his life was unraveling at an uncontrollable speed. He had failed in business; he had failed at home; and he felt like he was in fact a total failure. This is not the sort of phone call one relishes; however, as the expression goes, “a friend in need, is a friend in deed”. Because he was a friend who needed a sympathetic ear, I knew I needed to take the time to listen carefully to what he had to say. In the end I could do very little other than commiserate with him. I too have experienced failures professionally and personally. It is part of the human condition. Most of you are nodding your heads in complete understanding as you are reading this. Allowing ourselves to make mistakes, to forgive ourselves, and to move on and hopefully avoid repeating the same mistake is what we must do.

He explained that this is more easily said than done. How can one argue with such a statement? It’s true. Life has challenges. Rarely are such challenges too difficult to cope with. When life seems to be overwhelming, we can count on our friends. Many people use the excuse that they don’t want to be a bother. My advice is to be a bother. We cannot fight all of our personal battles alone; nor do we need to.

How we look at ourselves in relation to those around us carries through from one life experience to another. There is always a separation between one person and another, because we do not truly know what is going on in anyone else’s life but our own. Everyone has his or her own challenges and struggles. While not being overly intrusive in others’ lives, we must take responsibility for ours.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”   The Dalai Lama