Compassion: One of Your Greatest Treasures

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

Dalai Lama

This week we turn toward compassion, one of your greatest treasures.

In this brief article, we’ll look at the double-meaning of Lao Tsu’s quote on compassion.

The word treasure is both a noun and a verb.  As a noun, it refers to riches you can amass during your lifetime, such as gems,  gold, diamonds, and “Pieces of Eight,” like in the book  ”Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Regarding “Pieces of Eight,” I never knew what that meant, but I saw pirates were thrilled when they found them. It turns out that Pieces of Eight was the world’s first global currency! As the coins of Spain, they were used across the Spanish Empire. Pieces of Eight were legal tender in the USA until 1857. In 1600, one coin would be worth about $7. 

Enough trivia! Let’s look at what happens when we see “treasure” as a verb instead of a noun. Here we see that to treasure someone is to cherish, prize, and esteem them.  This brings us closer to what I say is the true meaning of compassion. And it’s different from how we commonly view that word.

For example, when I looked up synonyms for compassion, the dictionary included words like pity, sympathy, and empathy. However, that’s not what I think Lao Tsu, Mother Teresa, and the Dalai Lama mean. Something is missing.

While the above synonyms are how we often see the word, I have discovered something very different about compassion. In my 52 years of experience working with people, first as a licensed clinical psychologist and now as a Master Certified Coach, I have come to see that compassion is present when we see beyond the suffering of the person in front of us. We don’t pity them. Nor do we sympathize or empathize. Instead, we see their greatness! We treasure them. In other words, we recognize who they really are in their hearts.

Seeing people this way is where “compassion” can be one of our greatest treasures.  For example, “to treasure” someone is to cherish,  revere, esteem, and value significantly. And this is precisely what happens when we show compassion toward another person. We treasure them for who they are. We might see their suffering. However, in moments of genuine compassion, we see something much more critical about them. We see that this person is genuinely a hero on their hero’s journey.  In other words, we are not as present with their suffering as much as we are attending to their value and worth as human beings.

Furthermore, we see that there’s no difference between us. We are both on our life paths.

Many years ago, there was a story in a Hawaiian newspaper about a policeman who rescued someone about to commit suicide by jumping off the Pali, one of the steepest mountains on Oahu. It would mean certain death. As the story goes, two policemen drove up the Pali road when they spotted a young man about to jump. They stopped their car. One of the men ran outside and could just grab the young man’s legs as he jumped. His partner came running and helped to keep both men from going over the Pali. 

In a later interview with the first policeman, they asked why he ran to help, even though he was risking his own life by doing it. He replied that he couldn’t do anything else. At that moment, all he thought about was keeping the other person from dying.

You’ve undoubtedly read similar stories: how people rush to burning cars to pull someone from the wreck—or running into a burning building to remove a child from danger.

What’s happening at that moment?  Many philosophers have said it’s like the invisible veil that seems to separate us from the other person is drawn aside. At that moment, we and the other person are the same beings.

Less dramatically, compassion happens when we “see” the person, as illustrated in this short clip from the movie, Avatar. This view of compassion takes it into a different realm beyond sympathy and empathy. 

Reverend Ramona Goodge, “Rev Ramona,” as she likes to be called, is the Minister of The Mountainside Center for Spiritual Living in Placerville, California. ( Mountainsidecsl.org.)  Before the pandemic, she took groups around the world on educational tours.

“I saw how the wealthy lived as we traveled together. Now I wanted to see the other side: how the poor and homeless among us live.”

So,  she drives one of the city’s buses. Every day she sees homeless, ill, poor people ride with her.  

“After seeing them twice, I’ll ask their name. Then, the next time they ride with me, I’ll greet them and say, for example,: ‘ Take care of yourself, Jack! It’s going to be hot. Make sure you keep hydrated.

“The minute I do this, their face lights up. It’s a transformation!  They’ve been seen! You have no idea how many people have never been seen!”

Compassion is present whenever you see the other person as a hero, whole and complete. You see that there is nothing inherently “wrong” with them. They have goals and dreams just like you, as well as a desire to make a difference. You see that being with them contributes to you in some way.

This way of seeing people was the cornerstone of Mother Teresa’s ministry in Calcutta (Kolkata). She knew that many people die before they are recognized or seen as human beings worth knowing. Her mission was to see each of them as “Jesus, in all his distressing disguises.” She would admonish newcomers in the following way:

“We don’t need your tears! We need you to see who they are! We need you to recognize them!”

That’s what makes the following quote so relevant and poignant. 

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other — Mother Teresa

What are you seeing for yourself about compassion? Is there someone with whom you’re willing to practice compassion? Someone who, up until now, you’ve been tempted to feel sympathy with. For example, a friend or relative who’s been dealing with a difficulty of some kind. 

This is how to do it: 

  • You see that they are heroes, whole and complete.
  • They have goals and dreams and a desire to make a difference, even if they are not aware of these goals and dreams.
  • They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

Try this out and see what happens to them and you!

Until next time!

“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.”

Lao Tsu

Wishing you all my best,