05/03/2016 09:45 am ET Updated May 04, 2017

4 Ways to Be a More Compassionate Person


Given the load we carry with everything on our plates, it's understandable that we lose track of one another. After all, we have to keep our heads down so we can get it all done -- then fall into bed, get some rest, and do some more tomorrow.

Yet we long for someone to care, to realize what we're going through. When this doesn't happen, the lump of loneliness in our hearts takes us further away. If you don't love me enough to notice, then the heck with you! And a cold shield grows around our hearts.

As a consequence relationships wither and our work suffers because shutting down our heart affects how we think about and speak to others. We may ask people how they are, but too often our mind is elsewhere.

The cost is obvious, but the moment someone shows true compassion for you, the sun comes out, and your heart begins to thaw. Just last night I witnessed an argument between two people who love each other deeply. By the time the words stopped flying, one was angry and the other was hurt.

My first reaction was to fix it, and my ego turned to the best way to do that. Fortunately I did nothing. Later in bed I shifted to my heart and felt compassion for both of them, and I sensed they felt it although I didn't say a word.

4 ways to be a more compassionate person

In order to appreciate the power of compassion, it's necessary to practice. Learn to put yourself in others' shoes, imagine why they act as they do, and be sensitive to their pain. As Ian MacLaren said so well,

Be kind for everyone you meet
is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

If this issue matters to you, here are the guidelines I'm learning. As you read my suggestions, consider how you're doing or think about what you can do to be more compassionate. They're written in the first person to make them easier to adopt as your own if you wish.

  1. Have compassion for myself. Some time ago I had severe back pain, yet I tried hard not to complain or make life miserable for others. I did my best to have compassion for Tim as he took on many of my tasks. Yet not once did it occur to me to have compassion for myself. Since then I've been learning having compassion for oneself is essential if I wish to be compassionate toward others.
  2. Reach out with genuine concern. When you ask someone how he or she is doing, turn your full attention to the person in front of you. Let go of whatever you're feeling and open your heart to your concern for their well-being. While at first it may seem pretentious, soon your caring is genuine and you see the difference it's making.
  3. Listen fully. You don't have to fix anything or offer a solution. Just listen as generously as you can, seeking to understand and appreciate what it's like for them. Avoid the temptation to talk about yourself or times you've felt this way. It's not necessary or helpful. Remember the times someone has really listened to you, and the relief you felt.
  4. Speak from my heart. You'll know when the moment has come to respond. When someone has listened to me in this way, they need only say, I'm sorry or I understand. That's all I need to hear because I know they mean it. There's no way to fake compassion.

The path of compassion is natural -- it's within each one of us to be this way. But it takes mindfulness and a motivation to share our loving kindness.

The world needs our compassion -- now more than ever.

Only the development of compassion and understanding for others
can bring us the tranquility and happiness we all seek.
-- the Dalai Lama

Please share your experience of being compassionate, what you're learning, and the difference it's making. Either leave a comment by scrolling to the bottom of this page or write to me directly at

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