One of the differences between the virtues of kindness and compassion is that kindness “gives to” while compassion “identifies with.” Both are ingredients of charity and we hardly have one without the other. But compassion struck me the other day when I heard an interview with two writers who have produced an amazing book which is revolutionizing the medical world, according to several medical websites. The importance of the book, Compassionomics, is that it demonstrates not only that patients have greater healing success with compassionate doctors, but that the care of such doctors can actually reduce the cost of hospitalizations and treatments.
Doctors Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarelli go beyond anecdotal testaments and personal opinions to actual quantitative proof that compassionate care can be measured as proven in the many studies they report. Another article on compassionate care reported that physicians are using what is called the Jefferson Scale on Empathy which has been translated into 56 languages for worldwide use. Other medical leaders such as Dr. Richard Davidson of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, and Dr. James Doty of the Center for Compassion and Altruism at Stanford University are well-known promoters of compassion both for medical advantages and for healthy living. Undoubtedly, there is a movement in motion to understand and apply compassion in today’s society.
But we should also value the spiritual components of practicing compassion. The word itself means to “feel with” or “to identify with.” This means you enter into the mind, soul, and body of the person who appeals for your compassion. Don’t just read the numbers on the chart or the facts you are given. As you listen to the story of the person who is suffering go within, drop all the tangible things you can do like offering suggestions or giving examples that might help. Enter into their suffering—as if you cannot do anything about it—except to put yourself into their shoes, their footprint of life, and lift them from their pain to comfort. When you interact with a person of need, pretend you are that person. Reach deep inside and meet and feel the pain they are expressing.
I am reminded of a story I read in a journal many years ago when the AIDS virus was rampant. It is a modern Good Samaritan story. An esteemed journalist who had pummeled the AIDS problem and homosexuality in his city, San Francisco, in article after article, concealed a problem of his own, alcoholism. One night he walked home very much inebriated, and fell unconscious on to a sidewalk. A man who was passing by wrapped the drunken man’s head with his coat, hoisted him into his car and took him to the nearest hospital. The journalist was admitted and the kind man who took him in told hospital authorities, I will pay for whatever is needed. The next day he sent flowers to the journalist’s room. And then he visited the patient. The patient asked him how he had found him. “Oh, I was going home after practice with the Gay Men’s Chorus for our Christmas concert when I saw you there, helpless.”
We need compassion now more than ever. We need to ask ourselves if we can put ourselves into another’s shoes or experience. Hold the hand of someone, and really enter into their anguish. Let their story enter your soul; forget all your personal experiences, your biases, your education, your personal family life, the solutions that spring to mind – and simply hold this person who needs you to feel and be compassionate at this moment.
I suggest we read and reflect on the Biblical story of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37 and see the similarities with the story I told you above.
We are all called to be Good Samaritans, to be compassionate people, but it takes much practice and reliance on prayer to become a gentler person without the answers, just the compassion.