I teach a class at Southern Connecticut State University in the fall semesters. One of the books I use in my class is This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women. (The book is the written version of a National Public Radio program that aired originally in the 1950s and then, again, in the 2000s.) The book consists of short essays written by both famous and ordinary people about what they believe. While reading what other people believe I think about what I believe and about what I might write if I wrote a “This I Believe” essay. Here is a possible “This I Believe” essay from me:
I believe in the power of listening to and acknowledging the experiences and feelings of others. This practice is identified either as sympathy, compassion or empathy. All three words are related, as the following excerpt from www.dictionary.reference.com states: “Sympathy, compassion [and] empathy all denote the tendency, practice, or capacity to share in the feelings of others, especially their distress, sorrow, or unfulfilled desires.” For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to this practice as “compassion.”
I have discovered that compassion has the power to heal. Compassion may not fix a situation or change circumstances, but it has the power to heal the spirit. I first learned this from people who would listen to me without judgment when I was having a difficult time. The mere act of listening and acknowledging what I was feeling had a healing effect on my spirit. The person with whom I was talking couldn’t fix the situation or change the circumstances, but he or she could join me in my suffering, which had the miraculous effect of lessening my suffering. Compassion has the power to heal.
I learned this lesson again when I was a chaplain in a hospital. There was very little I could do to alter the condition of the patients and their family members (and sometimes there was very little that the medical personnel could do, too). The one thing I could do was listen to them, or be in silence with them, or pray with them. It didn’t seem like I was doing much but, in fact, I was doing a lot. I was doing what Jesus had asked his disciples to do when he was facing his arrest, trial and crucifixion. He had asked them to stay awake with him, to be present with him in his suffering (Mt 26:38). Even though his disciples couldn’t take away the suffering he was about to undergo, they could be present with him while he waited and thus they could have the miraculous effect of lessening his suffering. Compassion has the power to heal.
My children have taught me this lesson one more time. I have learned that when they are upset – even when they were little and were having a tantrum and behaving horribly – if I remain calm and acknowledge their feelings they calm down much faster. Once they are calm, we can communicate and get past whatever problem they or we are having. Plus, they learn that I care about how they feel, which means that I care about them, which means that I love them, which is the only thing that really matters, anyway. Compassion has the power to heal.
It all comes down to love: It was love that created us (the love of our Creator God), it was love that redeemed us (the love of Christ), it is love that sustains us (the love of the Holy Spirit), and it is love that allows us to become all that we are meant to be (the love of those who support us and our love for ourselves). When we listen to and acknowledge the experiences and feelings of others we are telling them with our words and actions that who they are and how they feel is important to us. We are telling them, in essence, that we love them. Compassion has the power to heal.