At some point when you’ve invited a friend to yoga, you’ve probably heard, “I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible.” To that you would reply, “But doing yoga will make you more flexible. You don’t have to start out that way.” Seems obvious. Yet on NPR’s TED Radio Hour, Krista Tippett blew my mind by saying the same thing about being a compassionate person. You don’t have to be any type of person in order to act with compassion. Instead, she says, we can practice compassion (one act at a time) to eventually become compassionate people.
Compassion is not necessarily about agreeing with somebody else. It’s not even necessarily about liking them. It is about making a choice to honor their humanity.
I think we should treat compassion, learning compassion and becoming more compassionate, like we treat learning to play the piano or learning to throw a ball, like it is actually something that we can decide we are going to practice. You know, rather than saying, “I have to become this compassionate person so that I can act this way.” I think this is one of those things that the more we do it, the more it actually starts to work on us from the inside. It becomes instinctive. Just as we are hard-wired to learn a language.
I do absolutely think we are born with this redemptive capacity to be compassionate. But we have to start to practice it around each other. We have to start to embody it in front of our children and in our common life. I do think that that will be infectious. Our culture is obsessed with perfection and with hiding problems. But what a liberating thing to realize- that our problems are our richest sources for rising to this ultimate virtue of compassion, towards bringing compassion to the suffering and joys of others.