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Dr. Carmen Harra Headshot

The Miraculous Nature of Human Compassion

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Jose Luis Pelaez Inc via Getty Images
Dr. Carmen Harra Headshot

The Miraculous Nature of Human Compassion

Posted: Updated:

Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.

We are alienated from each other on degrees of acquaintance: how well you know someone determines how you relate to their state of being. On rare occasion do we sympathize, much less empathize, with a complete stranger. On the contrary, the primary emotions triggered by interaction with a person we don't know are reluctance, discomfort, and quickly mounting anger.

Louie Schwartzberg's "Hidden Miracles of the Natural World" piqued my curiosity this week. I have, since my youth, firmly relied upon the miracles inherent to the world around us. And inspired by this specific TED Talk, I turned inward and asked myself: What natural miracles do we actually embody within us? With what are human beings inbred that we can deem absolutely miraculous? Following this line of thinking, I began to understand that we are the very source of our miracles. Because if our natural world holds miracles, what more natural than our own emotions, and what more miraculous than the emotion of compassion?

Recently I've experienced mysterious bouts of high blood pressure. I went completely against doctors' orders and thought I would be fine on a six-hour flight from Florida to Los Angeles. After the first hour, however, I felt my blood pressure begin to spike. I panicked: suddenly I realized I was stuck on an airplane, flying alone, and with no medical resources available for hours. The pounding in my head and chest was mounting. It was intolerable; the airplane cabin began to spin and my vision turned blurry. What a mistake I had made. In an act of desperation, I hit the call button and blurted to the flight attendant that I wasn't feeling well. What I encountered next forever solidified my belief in the human potential for performing good. The stewardess, Annie, a simple woman in her 30's, darted to retrieve an oxygen tank and some ice. She quickly placed an oxygen mask over my face, held ice to my forehead, and began to measure my blood pressure. Most notable of all, Annie held my hand and spoke softly to me, reassuring me that I would be just fine, as if she had known me for many years. For the following four hours, Annie did not budge from my side. When she became tired of standing Annie sat on the floor, but her hand did not release mine for a second. It wasn't the medical help I would receive in a hospital, but Annie helped me in a very different way: she showed me unfiltered compassion. And that to me made all the difference in the world.

Every passenger who walked by my row expressed their sincere concerns and hopes that I feel better soon. It was their warm smiles, the crinkles around their eyes, and the authenticity of their few but true words that did make me feel better. I lost count of how many people showed me compassion on the flight; it radiated from the human spirit, brilliantly and unconditionally as unapologetic kindness often does.

I learned on that day that compassion is worthless unless given to others. Consider my three keys to extending mercy to the world -- I promise you will not regret giving the gift of care:

Unlock your compassion. We all possess a fountain of clemency within us. Yet we build a self-protecting dam around it; we fear that allowing our compassion to flow freely may make us vulnerable to others and we will be hurt. So we keep our compassion well walled, preserving it for some other, future day. Compassion does not operate this way. We can feel up to our threshold and still guard against pain. Wear the shoes of others more often; life ushers us all through the same lessons, trials, and misfortunes. What has happened to another has, is, or will happen to you in some form or another. Because we are considerate does not mean we are gullible, weak, or dumb. It means we are evolved. Seek the similar threads that run among us and you will find that we are not so different, after all.

Disable anger. Anger leaps to the forefront of most uncomfortable situations. When a car cuts you off in traffic or a person is rude, anger is quick to rear its ugly head. But being irate is the antithesis of being compassionate; it narrows our understanding, dulls down our awareness, and stifles our logic. When we allow ourselves to become frustrated over every little thing, we invite anger to dominate more and more of our life experiences. Soon, we become the agent of our anger, acting out in ways that only suit its purpose. Eliminate this emotion by always reminding yourself, "It's not worth becoming angry." By stopping anger in its tracks we not only behave differently, we show others how to behave differently as well. Then, we can reach real solutions.

Be unconditional. Acting unconditionally promotes compassion. Like the flight attendant who held my hand for hours, you can extend good without reason or expectation. This, truly, makes you a better person. You begin to see differently when you view the world through the lens of positive intent. Do all that you do without restraint, especially the good you manifest on a day to day basis. When you act without conditions, you can progress in any area of life because you do without doubt. Potential broadens when you do for the pure love of doing, and believe you will receive all you merit in return.

The count of human compassion is endless, immeasurable, if we choose to break down the empathetic barriers within us and allow ourselves simply to feel more. Then, we are capable of unimaginable good, both for us and others, through small but overlooked acts that leave permanent impressions on the spirit.

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