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How Can Compassion Improve My Life?

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Personal Development

How Can Compassion Improve My Life?

Compassion involves more than putting yourself in another’s place.

The definition of compassion is the ability to understand the emotional state of another person or oneself. Often confused with empathy, compassion has the added element of having a desire to alleviate or reduce the suffering of another. Empathy, as most people know, is the ability to put oneself in the other person’s place. Although compassion and empathy are two separate things, having compassion for someone can lead to feeling empathy for another person.

Although the above is the accepted definition of compassion, I believe that having compassion for someone involves more than putting yourself in their place and genuinely wanting to understand or even help them. It involves beginning to have a totally different perspective when it comes to how you perceive others. For example, instead of assuming that the reason someone has done something that hurts you is because they are selfish or inconsiderate, assume instead that they had a good reason for doing it. This idea, based on Marshall Rosenberg’s philosophy, can be difficult to buy into at first.

But when you think about it, don’t you usually have a good reason when you do something, even if what you did may seem inconsiderate to someone else? Let’s say you are very worried about your child’s health. You took her to the doctor and he decided to take tests in order to rule out a serious disease. Later that day you are walking down the street, preoccupied with your daughter and an acquaintance passes you and says hello. You say hello in return but because you are so deep in thought you don’t stop to chat.

Later on you hear the acquaintance felt insulted because you “snubbed” her. Even though it was not your intention to snub this person, and you had a very good reason for your behavior-the acquaintance assumed the worst. Unfortunately, this is what most of us do. We assume the worst. Learning to have more compassion involves making the radical shift to assume the best in others. If the acquaintance had assumed the best, she would have concluded that it wasn’t personal-that you must have been preoccupied-and she would have been right!

[Isadora Alman]

Isadora Alman, M.F.T., is a California licensed marriage and relationship therapist, a Board-certified sexologist, author and lecturer. Her syndicated sex and relationship column “Ask Isadora” ran in alternative weekly papers worldwide for 25+ years. Web surfers can find her columns on her online free interactive Sexuality Forum www.askisadora.com (link is external).

She is the author of two collections of Q & A’s from columns: Let’s Talk Sex and Ask Isadora, as well as Sex Information, May I Help You?, a peek behind the scenes of a sex help phone line which still flourishes in San Francisco today. Doing It: Real People Having Really Good Sex is a collection of helpful hints and titillating tidbits culled from column readers and Forum web site users. Her novel Bluebirds of Impossible Paradises: A Sexual Odyssey of the 70’s is out in paperback on Amazon.com. She has also contributed chapters to several books including Herotica (Down There Press), Dick For A Day (Villard NY), The Moment Of Truth (Seal Press) and Single Woman Of A Certain Age (Inner Ocean Publishing, Inc.) Isadora has been a talk show host and frequent TV and radio talk show guest, and a lecturer and workshop leader on a variety of communications topics. She conducts her private psychotherapy practice in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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