The heart is an amazing organ. For those of us who work in the field of compassion and creatively attempt to find ways to inspire people to become more compassion the metaphor of the heart is a favoured language. We speak of “the ways of the heart” and mean a deeply felt connection to someone experiencing challenges. Compassionate people care about others, they feel the pain of others, and they want to make a difference.
My late mother was suspect of people who were all emotion with little action, folks who exhibited tears, hugs and tenderness but when the chips were down became invisible. I have tried to remove that assumption from my consciousness but years of hearing this mantra are hard to ignore. Indeed some of the most compassionate people I know are in fact emotional people. So my head is telling my subconscious to take a break!
As a Minister and a former politician I have heard many people say, “Charity begins at home”. Let me say right off that this expression DOES NOT come from the Bible. You would be surprised to hear that many think these words come from Jesus. Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact Jesus regularly pushed the boundaries of compassion beyond race, gender, sexuality, class and nationality. Remember the famous line where Jesus faces his blood related kin and asks, “Who is my mother, who are my brothers?” Jesus’ answer to his own question is that those who belong to his cause, his cause of salvation and justice, are his sister and brother.
I used to think that compassion was transferrable, people who were compassionate to their own kin would be the most compassionate to strangers and vice versa. I was wrong. Often folks who open their wallet and heart to people they know by name and story are the least interested in helping someone they do not know well. Ironically I have also met people who, as the Peanuts cartoon strip says, “Love humanity, it’s people they can’t stand”. Persons who want to save the world but aren’t particularly interested in the person who stands before them. I find these two disconnects confusing.
Lately I have come to think of the heart of compassion being two separate muscles, one for those we know and one for those we do not know. We need to exercise both muscles. Those of us who work in the field of compassion, who attempt to inspire others and ourselves, to be more compassionate need to attend to both muscles. We need to alert people that our hearts become stronger and more deeply connected when we do both, loving our kin and the other.
How is your heart beating, is the compassion strong in both sides of the chamber? If not, why? All of us can stretch, strengthen and push ourselves beyond our comfort level to be all that God has intended.