It is important that when pursing our own self-interest we should be “wise selfish” and not “foolish selfish”. Being foolish selfish means pursuing our own interests in a narrow, shortsighted way. Being wise selfish means taking a broader view and recognizing that our own long-term individual interest lies in the welfare of everyone. Being wise selfish means being compassionate. - Dalai Lama
The Merriam-Webster's defines compassion as follows: 'Sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it.'
To obtain a better understanding of the broader scope of what compassion means we must first acknowledge the origin of the word. It comes from the Latin stem 'compati' meaning, "suffer with, feel pity." From these Latin origins, the word compassion is the ability for an individual to feel what the other individual is feeling. This is being either empathetic, sympathetic or both. Taken once step further, the essence of compassion is the ability for a person to fully feel the emotional grief and/or suffering of another person in the present moment. Being both fully present and focused with that other person and not into your own self-serving needs. You are not pre-occupied with what ever is happening to you instead you are totally aware to the other person. This is the key and vital definition of compassion that distinguishes it from many other words.
Compassion therefore is a quality that brings people together. It is in effect giving freely of yourself to another, with full respect and your undivided attention to their current situation. There is no greater emotion than to feel and absorb the pain of someone else to help ease his or her burden. Therefore, compassion is helping other humans in the present moment, to lighten their discomfort.
A wise selfish person will have compassion for oneself as well as for others. To be compassionate is the act of taking mindful notice that another human is suffering. It means not ignoring or being indifferent to witnessing or experiencing someone else's difficulties. In addition, it means that you feel moved by others’ pain so that you are able to respond in an empathetic way. This refers back to the Latin definition of 'to suffer with." Immediately you feel the need to respond with your concern, caring, and your genuine unselfish desire to help the affected person in some tangible aspect. It is your willingness to react in your most sincere way that is needed in the moment. It must be spontaneous and feel right for you and the other individual. Having compassion also means that you offer your understanding and kindness to others when they may have failed or made mistakes. This is done without any judgment or criticism on your part. The recipient feels you have understood them with your authentic caring and tenderness. They will then begin to feel more 'at-ease’ from your actions. Whenever you feel heartfelt compassion for another (rather than pity) you will be able to clearly recognize in yourself and in others the important realization that suffering, failure and imperfection are universal experiences for all of us. This is the shared collective human experience.
We will each need some compassion from someone, someday, and sometime in our lives. The famous quote: "There but for fortune, go I."
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