Tag Archives: Compassion

Love: Looking outward in the same direction

“Love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.” —Saint-Exupéry

Something I remember at this time of year: A better translation for the word “love” in the Bible would be “compassion.” 

I changes everything. Imagine if couples promised to have compassion for each other instead of to love each other. It takes away the possibility of  the kind of damage people inflict on each other in the name of “love,” a word that can lead to possessiveness and manipulation.

Compassionate couples trust. They don’t need to keep watchful eyes on each other. They turn outward together to look at the world in the same direction.

They don’t waste time gazing. They look at what can and needs to be done.

They take action, do good, have fun.

If Valentine’s Day can lead to a little more of that, I’ll get on board.






Christmas: Exceptions to the rule make the best stories

soul-eyesWe have faith in the unexpected. After every earthquake, for example, we pray for the exceptions—for people to defy the odds and survive under the rubble for days.

We hope for miracles. We pray the person we know with cancer will be the one to beat the odds.

We love exceptions to the rule, the people who make good against all odds, like a baby worshipped in spite of being born to an unwed mother in the harsh culture of patriarchal society.

That’s why we can’t stop telling the Christmas story. No matter how you interpret it, the story is about faith in the unexpected, hope for miracles and love for exceptions to the rule—all the things that captivate us. Now matter how you feel about it, we can learn from it.

No matter what you believe about how Mary came to be pregnant, she was an unwed mother in a time when unwed pregnant women were shunned or stoned. Neither happened to her. She was an exception to the rule. No matter what you believe about who Jesus‘ real father was, he was an illegitimate child at a time when such children would have few prospects. Even before he could walk or talk, Jesus broke the rules.

Jesus captivates us because he lived making exceptions to the rule. He ate with the unclean, walked with the lepers, preached on the Sabbath, and turned the tables on religious rituals that prevented everyone from participating. If there’s anything we can learn from his life, and it’s a lesson too many Christian churches today forget, it is that love is more important than rules.

When forced to make a choice between the most compassionate option and the most obedient option, Jesus chose compassion.

A woman gets pregnant out of wedlock? Love her anyway. A child is born out of wedlock? Love it anyway. A man is disenfranchised from society? Eat with him anyway. A woman has a communicable disease? Walk with her anyway. Someone wants to learn or play or work even though it’s a holy day? Teach them, laugh with them or help them anyway. And, for goodness sake, open your doors and your ceremonies with unrestricted compassion for all people.

The Christmas story, no matter how you interpret it, reminds us to value exceptions to the rule. They make the best stories, and who knows what greatness a compassionate exception might lead to?


1 Corinthians 13:13

13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Why do the right thing?

We had a lively and lingering dinner party with a group of friends on the weekend. Over dessert one friend shared a story from his week.

After filling his car with gas, he went into the store to pay. While there, he picked up a few other things that amounted to about $5.00. He paid with his card, left the store and drove away. Hours later, when he looked at the receipt, he realized that the cashier had charged him for the $5.00 items, but not for the gas.

He could have just let it go. But then he thought that maybe the cashier would have to cover the loss. He went back to the gas bar and pointed out the error.

His story prompted another one of my friends to tell us about her “honesty ring.” Decades ago, she came down the escalator at Sears to see lying on the floor in front of her a $100 bill and a $10 bill. Decades ago that was a lot of money. She could have just picked it up and walked on. Instead, she took it to the service desk where they logged it in and told her that if no one claimed it in a certain amount of time, it would be hers. No one claimed it, and she used the money to treat herself to the “honesty ring” she still wears all these decades later.

Another friend at the table told the story of her father finding a paper bag full of thousands of dollars lying on the ground in a parking lot. He turned it into police.

All of these stories reminded me of the time I stopped at an ATM in Mac’s Milk. I walked up to the machine and found $100 sitting in the slot. Someone had withdrawn the money, taken their card and then left without the money. I looked all around the Mac’s Milk, but no one was there. I could have taken the money and run, but I took it to the cashier and handed it in.

All of us at the table that night had a “doing the right thing” story to share. 

We had either lost financially or risked losing financially in these situations, but we had gained in pride and feelings of self-worth. Some of these events had taken place decades ago, but still they resonate good feelings through our lives today. We glowed as we remembered and shared our stories.

We didn’t talk about all the times we didn’t do the right thing.

Guaranteed each of us could pull out stories about times when we made different kinds of decisions. Those resonate through our lives decades later, too, with no-so-good queasy feelings. We’re just not so willing to share those stories.


Doing the right thing: short-term financial loss or risk, long-term feelings of pride and self-worth, and great dinner conversation.

Doing the wrong thing: short-term financial gain, long-term not-so-good queasy feelings, no good stories to share.

Sounds so simple. Why is sometimes so hard?

Who are your Golden Rule people? I’ll tell you mine . . .

Do you know someone who loves himself and treats others with just as much compassion? Do you know someone who gives generously of herself, not because it will be to her advantage but because her compassionate nature compels her to do so?

Who are your Golden Rule people?

We asked this question of our book study group on Monday night while discussing Karen Armstrong‘s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. Some people were lucky enough to marry Golden Rule spouses. Others remembered grandparents or aunts and uncles as compassionate beings. One or two politicians even made the cut.

Here is the beginning of my list:

The picture is of the gravestone of Nobel Peace Prize recipient and former Canadian prime minister, Lester B. Pearson. We have him to thank for Canadian Peacekeeping and our distinctive Canadian flag, so he gets a vote.

I wrote about Dr. James Orbinski‘s book, An Imperfect Offering, in one of my book reviews. I met him a few years ago when his book was up for the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. I admire him and his work with Doctors Without Borders.

I wrote about Alex McKeague in “I want to live like Alex.” He was a Golden Rule person for sure.

Many people at my church qualify—too many to name individually. They drive for Meals on Wheels. They visit people in hospital. They support local outreach programs.

I would put John, the trip leader from my recent Habitat for Humanity trip, on the list. He is a volunteer firefighter and paramedic, he volunteers with Global Medic (he even did one stint at a cholera treatment centre), and he has led several Habitat teams around the world. When his wife was ill, he cared for her with the radical tenderness we would all wish for when so vulnerable.

But at our Monday night gathering we had to pick just one person to talk about.

I chose my friend Marybeth. She has the greatest capacity to love of anyone I know. All living things receive love in full measure. Every turtle, hamster and guinea pig in their family menagerie has known Marybeth’s great capacity for caring. Years ago one of her children brought a fertilized chicken egg home to hatch as part of a school project. Marybeth fell in love with the egg first,and then the chick that hatched from it. The fuzzy yellow ball of baby chick even sat on her shoulder and chirped when she worked at her computer.  When the chick had to return to the farm, Marybeth cried. She has a dog now. That is one cherished dog.

And people, well, if anyone has Marybeth as a friend, they are well taken care of. Marybeth’s nature does not allow her to rest easy if those around her are not comfortable and happy. She will do whatever she can to try to make every situation better. When my father died she was the first person at my house to give me a hug. If anyone is sick or in need of support, she is there to help with food, rides or empathy. Our children are the same ages and I’ve lost track of the number of times that Marybeth has been my support person for child pick-ups or rides to sporting events.

She is actively involved in the community, volunteering with local organizations, schools and her church.

She gives generously, and receives comfortably, too.

That’s the beginning of my list. Who is on yours?

Darwin’s survival of the kindest

Could it be that, in natural selection, kindness trumps fast runners with big  muscles?

Some of today’s scientists are taking a new look at Charles Darwin‘s findings. They are exploring the flip side of what earlier scientists gleaned from his work. In the attached video link, Dacher Keltner of the University of California, Berkeley addresses The Centre for Compassion and Altruism and Research and Education on this topic.

According to Keltner, Herbert Spencer, who coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” (it was not Darwin as many believe), and others of his time focused on the mercenary competitive self-interest part of natural selection. But Darwin’s work was about much more than which animals could run fastest, pro-create most often or grow the biggest muscles.

Darwin considered the role that compassion played in societies that succeed. He wrote that sympathy ” . . . will have increased through natural selection, for those communities, which include the greatest number of the most sympathetic members, would flourish best and rear the greatest number of offspring.”

Could it be that kindness accelerates prolific pro-creation?

Keltner also argues that scientific studies show that compassion is part of our DNA. We pass it on to our children and our children’s children.

Studies involving the human voice in communities around the world find that there is a common “vocal burst,” or sound, used to portray compassion. If you want to portray compassion, what sound do you make? I think you will find that it is the same sound that the audience for Keltner’s lecture made when spontaneously invited to do so.

Human touch also builds trust and compassion. The more a team of basketball players touch each other, the better they play.

But we are now in a “crisis of compassion”

Studies show that we are less empathetic, more materialistic and more self-involved than thirty years ago. Keltner says that we are a “touch-deprived” culture. We need more mindfulness, more contemplation, and more gentle reassuring holding of hands.

The survival of the kindest depends on it.


When nothing is something

My friend, Karen, is a born teacher; she has a calling, if you will. One of the characteristics that make her a natural teacher is her ability to accept each child as is and to provide even the most challenging children with unconditional love.

Her first teaching job was in a classroom of kids with special needs at a school in a low-income area. For children with special needs born into poverty, unconditional love is rare. They crave it and gravitate to it like sunflowers to the sun. The kids adored her.

Christmas rolled around that year. Some families could afford the gift cards, coffee mugs or Christmas decorations that teachers receive each year, but many of the families of the children in Karen’s class could not. If there was no money for lunches, there was certainly no money for gifts.

On the last day of school, a boy ran into the classroom. “Look!” he said. “I have a present for you!” He handed her a Christmas present that was more tape than wrapping paper. Karen was surprised; she hadn’t expected a gift from him. But she pried away at the tape and peeled it off piece by piece.

When she unfolded the wadded paper, there was nothing inside.

She says it is the best Christmas gift she has ever received.

Our most expensive and finely tuned measuring instruments could never have found anything inside that wadded Christmas paper, but there was something there. That carefully taped package contained all his adoration for her as a compassionate teacher. He had wrapped up his gratitude for the unconditional love and acceptance he received. He had presented her with the spirit of giving.

Could there ever be a better gift?