THE BLOG
06/16/2014 11:25 am ET | Updated Aug 16, 2014

The Inside and Outside of Compassion

When people think about how to treat one another, the Golden Rule often comes to mind. The Golden Rule compels us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. The word 'do' is pivotal here, not just think of or feel toward others as we would have them think or feel toward us. Together, thinking, feeling, and doing are all vital aspects that form the complete principle of compassion. Activating the virtue of compassion is the cornerstone of positive social interconnection and humanism. Compassionate empathy involves caring and understanding of all others without judgments and preconceived notions about them.

According to Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Law of Compensation is whatever action we take eventually comes back to us in precise and equal measure. This law which functions in our personal human sphere and throughout the universe, maintains a steady state of equilibrium through the give and take of energy. The compensatory result, the reward, of treating ourselves and others with compassion is that we feel happy and contented in our hearts, knowing we are helping humanity evolve to greater peace and harmony. Surely we are creating our own futures by our actions and treatment of people today.

When we are non-judgmental towards others, we are able to focus on the needs of others. Empathy toward others is the heightened sense of awareness, partial identification with the feelings of another, and insight into his/her life that led to the present condition. Through the eyes and heart of empathy, we begin to gain entrance into the other person's perspectives, values, beliefs, feelings, or actions. We may not agree with attitudes or like their actions, but we can at least glimpse into what life must be like when seen and felt from their perspective. Direct contact with those from backgrounds different from ours is very valuable for increasing our empathy. Some believe if there had been a Jewish person in every German household, a holocaust would never have occurred. Yet even without direct contact, we can still cultivate a general feeling of human connection at spiritual and emotional levels through being committed to expanding our empathy and sense of oneness with all beings.

Compassionate people are merciful. In order to show mercy, we can't go around hating, blaming and criticizing, or killing each other. When we are negative, then the principle of compassion remains only a good idea, like a tiny seed lying dry and alone on a shelf--only a possibility or potential. Thomas Troward, the brilliant English philosopher early in the 20th Century, said that in order to exist as a substantial entity at all, anything must have both an inside and an outside. The inside of compassion is the idea and feeling of mercy, kindness, empathy, and oneness. The outside of compassion is the practical application, the action that issues forth in our relationships with others and all life. Compassion emerges as helpfulness, generous support, loving kindness, tenderness of tone and speech (courtesy), and deep listening from a heart of non-judgment. More virtuous than simple empathy, compassionate empathy gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another's suffering. Being compassionate allows us to experience the oneness of ourselves with others, to dissolve the false appearance of separation.