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What comes to your mind when you think of the word compassion? You might think “warm”, “kind”, “caring”, “empathy”. There may be other terms like “soft”, “pity”, “fluffy”, “letting yourself off the hook”. However, would you describe a fire fighter as soft or weak? Would you label a nurse as self-indulgent?

The definition of compassion “is a sensitivity to suffering of self and others with a commitment to try to alleviate that suffering”. It takes courage to understand and engage with distress. It is also dedication and wisdom.

Compassion has many faces. It is much more than empathy as it requires sensitivity but also an action to relieve pain. It takes courage to face and tolerate distress, whether that is our own or someone else’s.

This does not mean you have to try to save someone from drowning, if you are unable to swim. Wisdom within compassion is important here not only for yourself, but also for the person who is drowning. In these situations, being compassionate can be calling for the right support, throwing in a lifebuoy, offering words of comfort to those in distress etc.

There may be many blocks (e.g. not enough time, stress) or perhaps fears (e.g. “I’ll become lazy, “I won’t achieve anything”, “I’ll become too full of myself”) when it comes to engaging with compassion. We may have never experienced compassion before and therefore, do not know how to.

It can be hard to be compassionate. However, we need compassion because life is hard.

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