Over the next few blogs on our spirituality conference website, we will be exploring what it means to be human. In this blog, we will dive into what compassion is, and why it is an important value for all of humanity to share.

It is undeniable that there is suffering on this earth. We don’t have to look very far to see it. It’s in the heart of your neighbor next door who lost his wife, the child who has nothing to eat because of poverty, the co-worker who suffers from chronic illness. To be human is to suffer. So how do we live with our suffering and the suffering of others in a world that can seem cruel? Compassion.

What is compassion?

The etymology of the word “compassion” is Latin, and it literally means to suffer together. Compassion goes beyond empathy, which is our ability to feel the emotions of others. When you feel compassion, not only do you feel for other people’s suffering, you are motivated to do something about it.

Why be compassionate?

When we feel compassion, we have a biological response. It slows our heart rate, we release oxytocin (the “love chemical”), and our brain’s pleasure center lights up. Because of this biological basis, scientists look to an evolutionary purpose for compassion. We are wired for compassion, so there must be a reason that we experience it. Compassion helps us form long-term relationships with friends, family, and lovers and guides us as we care for our young. We use it to form the bonds we need to survive.

Not only do we feel compassion as a result of our evolution, when we actively seek compassion, we can see benefits to ourselves and others. In the emotional realm, people who are more compassionate are happier in a lasting way. The more we practice compassion, the more we are rewarded in our brains. Not only does compassion reward us mentally, it rewards us physically as well. Because compassion slows the heart rate, it boosts the Vagus Nerve, which in term reduces our risk of heart disease. Compassion makes us more resilient in the face of stress, and improves our immunity from disease. Compassion improves our relationships as well. It lets us parent better, be better friends and spouses, and allows us to let go of vindictiveness and judgment.

When we are compassionate towards others, we are doing more than benefiting ourselves and those with whom we are intimate. We are making for a better world entirely. Each act of compassion ripples out into the universe, creating balanced and loving vibrations throughout society as a whole. Compassion is integral to our humanity, and so it makes us human.

How to cultivate compassion for others

There is the impression that humans are naturally selfish, and it’s true that it is easy to focus on your own self-interest rather than be generous with yourself. Compassion may be hardwired, but it doesn’t always feel natural in modern society. The media encourages vanity, self-absorption, and pettiness. Yet now we know that compassion reaps far more benefits for us and all of humankind. So how can you create compassion within yourself?

Remember the comfort of others when you suffered and how it lifted your burdens off of you in a way that felt like a physical weight was lifting off of you. Not only will you feel kindness towards those individuals, this feeling can help you feel the need to help others in the same way. Try meditating on the idea of compassion; take a few minutes from each day to sit in silence and fill yourself with feelings of compassion, even for people for whom it may be difficult to feel compassion. When you read the news, pay attention to the names, and find out what you can about the individuals involved. This will put a face to the suffering you see on a daily basis, stirring compassion in your heart. By actively pursuing compassion, you can create a compassionate heart, which will serve you and others and make the world a better place.

Thank you for taking the time to read our spirituality conference blog on cultivating compassion. Please follow along with us as we continue our blog series, What Makes Us Human.