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?

6 reasons why I am grateful to a hacker

Photo by Randy Pertiet

My family email address was hacked; it was not a positive way to start my morning.

However, I have learned that challenging situations are best endured through the practice of gratitude, so I consciously chose to turn my irritation inside-out and to transform it to gratitude.

Dear hacker:

Thank you. Thanks to your time and talent, I have discovered six things for which I am profoundly grateful:

1. Delayed onset of Alzheimer’s Disease

In the past year I have had my Facebook account, my work email account and my family email account hacked. Thanks to you I have had to change several passwords and create ever more complicated ones. The stimulation to my brain cells that result from creating and remembering complex passwords will no doubt delay the onset of any senile dementia. I and my family thank you.

2. Increased calorie burning

I went for my daily walk with my dog after discovering the email violation. Fueled by anger and irritation, I walked at a much accelerated pace thereby burning more calories. My waist measurement thanks you.

3. Contact with old friends

Since you sent your message offering everyone in my contact list a chance to earn quick money, you have put me in touch with people who I have not contacted for a long time. Every parent who ever had a child on the same hockey, baseball, soccer or rugby team as my children would have been surprised to hear from me, no doubt. All the parents of my former Girl Guides, and all my children’s’ teachers would have been equally surprised to see my name in their Inbox, I am sure. Of course, they would not have been happy to receive the message under the circumstances, but I choose to remember the old public relations adage: There is no such thing as bad publicity—just spell my name right. Thanks for all the publicity.

4. Appreciation for the weather

It is cool and rainy in Ottawa, Canada today; the kind of weather that makes you want to go back to bed. Blah. Before I turned on my computer to discover you, dear hacker, I was a little grumbly about the weather. But then, when I saw all the undelivered mail messages in my Inbox, suddenly the weather wasn’t the worst part of my day. I started to look at it positively. After all, the trees and flowers needed a good drink. Our thirsty gardens thank you.

5. Pride in life choices

When I considered the time, talent and skill that you spent doing something that ruined my day, I felt rather proud of myself by comparison. When I have an hour or two to spare, I spend it trying to make the world a better place. I volunteer with several community organizations, I help out at my kids’ school, or I donate blood. I feel proud that I use my time, talent and skills to make someone’s day a little brighter. My community thanks you.

6. Compassion

I worked hard at putting myself in your shoes. I tried to understand you. I concluded that at some point in your history you were deprived of love in some way, or harmed physically or emotionally. Why else would you want to inflict harm on others? I was able to find compassion for you and to wish for a positive change in your life.

Dear hacker:

You have such skill and talent, and you obviously have WAY too much time on your hands. I ask that you look around. There are people who need your help.

Please use your time and talent to help, not harm.

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?

Give, and it will be given to you

As our Habitat for Humanity team worked together over the past two weeks, we had plenty of time to chat. We talked about our homes, our families and our hobbies. But there was one thing we never had to discuss: our reason for being half way around the world helping someone we had never met build a house. All of us knew that we were here for the same reason.


Compassion is one of my favourite words. I’m a signatory on The Charter for Compassion. And well-known theologian, Marcus Borg, believes that the word “love” in the Bible would better be translated as “compassion.” (Can you imagine how many marriages would improve if people promised to have compassion for their spouses instead of to love them?)

With all the people on our team working from this foundation of compassion, a miracle occurred. A vacant lot became the garden for growth of cultural understandings, gender appreciation, and, of course, a new home. When we held our good-bye celebration at the build site, tears flowed freely. We shared long, warm hugs with people from a different culture and with a different language we had met a mere 10 days earlier. The small building lot glowed with joy and heartfelt respect.  

I will return to Canada on a high created by the joy of helping a terrific family. I will never forget a Quechua mason brought to tears during his farewell speech. I will never forget the family standing on the sidewalk waving at our bus as we drove away.

We gave a little money. We gave a little time. And we got  back so much more than we gave.