Last week I went to watch a movie with my mum and while coming out she needed some help to walk down the slope. A young man standing next to her noticed her extending her hand to seek support and kindly held her hand and helped her get down the slope amongst the jostling crowd.
A friend recently posted on FB that she was proud of her husband helping someone who had a heart attack in a restaurant where they were dining.
Few years back, we were in a multi - storey building when an earthquake struck and as we rushed down, we were surprised to be one of the only two families who had brought our pet dog down along with us. The rest had left their pets behind.
What’s so special about these incidents that make them worth mentioning?
These are simple acts of compassion that are waning away from our lives. Stand in front of the elevator of a mall on a busy weekend and you will see people pushing each other without even considering if there is an elderly person, a woman with a small child or someone carrying a heavy bag who probably need to take the elevator more than us. The hurry is such that we just don’t notice the people around us. In the morning on the way to work, someone is trying to cross the road and cars just keep zinging past because it is 9 a.m and we are getting late for our meetings. Or when someone is telling us an experience and we ask them to get to the point without paying attention to the emotion they are going through.
We are not heartless people, our hearts are undergoing all kinds of stress and we spend a huge amount of our hard earned money on medicines, yoga teachers and meditation resorts and most often we give up because we just don’t have the time. In all this effort, we are missing the thing that most naturally comes to us. What we have forgotten is that our brain is wired for empathy. An act of empathy can work wonders on a stressed mind. To quote Tenzin Gyatso; The Fourteenth Dalai Lama – “The need for love lies at the very foundation of human existence. It results from the profound interdependence we all share with one another.”
World updates, business updates, family updates, checklists, plans- our brains are so full of all these thoughts that thoughtfulness is struggling to find space. Compassion does not come only through acts like working with the downtrodden, praying for people suffering in another country or lighting candles. It can be demonstrated in some very simple acts that we forget in our daily hustle and bustle. We owe these small acts of compassion to ourselves, to keep ourselves happy.
There is a caveat though- thoughtfulness is about timing and not time. A simple statement of “hope you feel better” in response to your team member’s sick leave request makes all the difference than just an “ok”. Calling up and speaking to them for a few minutes will mean more than asking your secretary to send flowers to their home later. On the contrary, spending hours asking people about their family and their personal life may irritate them when something else is pressing on their mind.
We don’t need to put additional effort or time to be compassionate. We have a mirror neuron system that helps us understand others emotions and intentions and fire at the same time as the observed experience of others.We just need to acknowledge it and respond when our mirror neurons fire simultaneously with the other person who may even be a stranger.
After a spree of meetings throughout the day, when I go to the chai walla’s counter in the cafeteria and he comments – “kya madam, itna busy they aaj ki subah se ki chai peene ka bhi time nahin mila, madam ko accha wala chai do”- it just enhances the flavor of the tea.