True compassion can change the world.
I learned a lot about this while volunteering during the refugee crisis in Germany and I want to share some of my experiences and insights with you.
Refugees in Germany —
In 2015, a huge wave of refugees from Syria flooded into Europe and in the course of one year, Germany welcomed one million of them. This would not have been possible without millions of Germans pitching in.
In my Hamburg neighbourhood, one of more than thirty refugee camps were built. Since then, I have been coordinating the German teachers. In the beginning, there were some problems and disappointments, until we had established a routine and a fitting mindset for our work.
What was the problem?
Our students didn´t come regularly and were usually late. A lot of them were not eager to learn the language. They certainly did not behave like we expected. We were frustrated and our motivation dwindled.
We had to learn that their choices were not our responsibility, and we did not have to agree with them. If they did not want to involve themselves, so be it. We were there because it was important to us. When you take something personally you easily feel badly treated. You think the others are doing something wrong and then you tend to judge.
What is true compassion?
True compassion means acknowledgment and understanding. By showing compassion we are expressing love and kindness. We reach the same level as our counterpart and creating an atmosphere of acceptance. We are not judging.
What is pity?
Pity is when we feel sorry for somebody. In feeling pity, we are not treating the other person as an equal. We judge without being aware of it. I call this the pity-trap. Why?
With pity we express implicitly that the other individual is not creating their reality well enough and we know better, we generate judgments.
Why is knowing the difference between compassion and pity so important?
We express a significantly different energy whether we choose to connect with compassion or pity. Energy is always felt and reacted to whether we are aware of it or not.
People are able to accept the help we offer in a totally different way when we show compassion because we transport a respectful energy and acknowledge them.
People who are pitied don´t feel genuinely understood and supported. With pity, we transport a feeling of smallness. People sense being looked down upon even when they do not consciously realize this.
Showing true compassion for refugees —
Now I try to be more aware and recognize when I slip into the pity-trap and start judging. Believe me, I still do! When I notice that I am judging I consciously stop. It is working quite well.
I treat the refugees I meet like I want to be treated. They had to flee under dreadful circumstances and they have often endured terrible horrors. Many are battling with depression. They still are normal human beings and have their faults like everybody else. It is so much fun connecting with them! During our lessons, we laugh a lot and sometimes we also cry together.
I want my work to be perceived as something that I give freely and as an equal. I want to help them effectively integrate.
We have been working at the refugee camp for two years now and the volunteers who are still motivated are the ones who have changed their mindset and express genuine compassion. You burn out easily when you have expectations.
Compassion with people in the victim role —
We all have had moments in which we have experienced ourselves as victims. In these moments we saw no options. We felt helpless and powerless. Some people keep creating uncomfortable situations for themselves. This is when genuine compassion is very helpful.
How can you best express the compassion you are feeling?
The important thing is to acknowledge your counterpart. Just being there often does the trick. You could also listen as long as you feel up to it. You could reach out and touch them. Do what your impulses tell you is fine for both parties.
Don´t give advice unless you are asked for it. When you are asked for advice try to be positive and supportive. When giving advice you could start your sentences with “I probably would” or “How do you feel about trying…” This shows respect for the other individual and leaves them choices.
Try to not have any expectations about what the other person should or should not do. I know, this is easier said than done because we want our friend, family member, or colleague who is in a bad place to feel better, fast.
Remember to take care of yourself first —
When you show compassion it is very important to respect your own boundaries. It does not matter whether you are doing this as a volunteer, as a healing professional, or at home caring for a family member.
The moment you don’t honour your boundaries, you will create problems. What happens if you listen longer to never changing lamentations? Sooner or later you will be totally fed up and blame the other individual for your discomfort.
But your discomfort is not their fault. They are just expressing themselves and it is your duty to yourself to express yourself, too. When you start to feel uneasy, change the subject, go away, or try to convey in a respectful manner that this is not going anywhere.
Remember you are just as important as the other person, and the only one who can take care of yourself is you! Then you will be able to support somebody else with true compassion and make the world a better place.
What are your experiences with true compassion? Please share your experiences in the comments section below! I’d love to read them.