For centuries, people have contemplated and argued over the
merits and flaws of the human condition. Philosophers and psychologists have
theoretically and scientifically dissected elements of the human psyche to get
a better understanding of who we are as a species, and why we do what we do.
While much focus has been given to negative aspects of personal choices, I
thought to put this discussion on an upswing through positivity by focusing on
self-compassion and altruistic behavior.
Self-Worth May Come from the Outside In
More than ever, it’s become difficult to acquire
self-awareness without partnering in self-defeating thoughts and
misperceptions. True, in part, we are all a result of where we come from, what
we’ve experienced, and the meaning we put behind it individually and
collectively. Additionally, social media and the quest for being seen and heard
instantaneously put added pressure on being our best, whether real or through a
Responding to Others’ Plight
When considering how we represent ourselves to others, those we know as well as those we’ve yet to meet, research has shown that compassion towards others weighs heavy. When a person readily shows kindness to another, it is one of the most coveted and desired traits. But is this an attribute people are born with or acquire?
Caring Is Influenced by Early Environment
Studies have shown that humans and animals may be prewired
for compassion. Think about when you’re feeling down or upset about something.
If you have a household pet, a dog, reflect on how many times he or she somehow
knew you needed comfort and came to your side for a nuzzle or a hug. Similarly,
it’s hard to shake off the feeling of seeing emotional or physical pain in
Yet, why can some people turn a blind eye to a homeless
person on a street corner in need of food or water, for example, while others
possess the desire to help? The art of giving can be compartmentalized into two
- The desire to make someone else feel good without the expectation of anything in
- The intent to help another and receive a reward
for doing so.
Is one way of giving any more or less effective than the
other? It may come down to the benefits each provides the person doing the
Altruism Can Be Different than Compassion
Many people can exhibit empathy towards others without
actually taking action. Ask yourself this question: The last time you
encountered a homeless person, did you feel badly for them, give them what they
needed in material things, or have someone else provide them sustenance on your
behalf (on your dollar)? Compassion is that emotional connection we have and
exhibit, related to another’s feelings or situation and, the authentic desire
to provide help to ease someone else’s suffering.
If a homeless person tugs on your heart strings, you exhibit
empathy or the ability to take on what another person is feeling. Should you
want to take action and provide them a meal or a room to sleep, that is known
as altruism. Although altruism connects empathy or compassion with feeling, it
transcends it through action that will positively impact the person or entity
on the receiving end.
But can a person engage in altruism without taking credit
for it? Absolutely. Altruism is all about doing something for the greater good.
For example, providing an anonymous monetary or other type of donation to a
person or a cause is a form of altruism. Just as any other action is often a
learned response to something, altruism can be taught—so too, can compassion.
The Culture of Compassion Starts by Practicing Self Love
At some point in your lifetime, you may have heard a friend muse the following sentiment: “If you don’t take care of you, how can you effectively take care of someone else?” This is often evident in the case of family. I would know. I remember the anguish in witnessing my younger brother fall from the limelight due to drug addiction, before he finally received proper treatment and manage his opioid withdrawal symptoms using the Bridge Device.
When one member is going through a hard time, others will
often sacrifice something of themselves to care for the one hurting. While this
is noble and in the moment perceived as necessary, in the long term, it might
bring about more harm. But by practicing self-compassion day-to-day, it puts
each person in the position of loving oneself and honoring each aspect of their
existence: mind, body and soul.
In doing so, we are practicing a heightened level of consciousness
and with it, are more available to exercise compassion to others. But there’s
an instinctive side to compassion as well.
Paying It Forward, Squared
Renowned naturalist Charles Darwin said this of the human
race and survival of the fittest : “The greater strength of the social or
maternal instincts than that of any other instinct or motive.” He also held
firm that the communities made up of the most sympathetic individuals would do
better, as a whole, than others and continue onward.
To take this into your own life, consider the impact you can
make, simply by performing one random act of kindness each day. Now, what if
the person on the receiving end of your graciousness would do the same for
someone else? And so on. And so on.
How long would it take for these acts of humanity to heal
your family, your circle of friends, your community, your city, and reach
global proportion? Treating the world in kind begins with you.
Self-Love Is Essential to Emotional Survival
Neuroscientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have long been involved in the study of how the brain responds to compassion, specifically in the act of giving and receiving. Whether you are engaging in helping someone else or receiving the help, the brain’s pleasure/reward center ignites during the process. A flood of wonderful feel-good hormones is released to our internal systems, boosting emotional and physical wellbeing.
Yet, many continue to take in unhealthy sources to elicit
our natural pleasure responses such as medications, alcohol, illegal drugs,
junk foods, gaming, gambling, and more that certainly don’t support emotional
and physical balance in oneself or others.
Understanding and accepting personal flaws and
transgressions, as well as bodily imperfections, is difficult as society
bombards us with messages that dictate what we should be and how much we fall
A crucial part of self-love and self-compassion is to remove
the self-judgment that shrouds the way we view ourselves. Once you are able to
hone the ability to keep judgment from derailing personal confidence, the time
spent judging others will also fall away leaving more opportunity for
compassion to arise.
The Courage to Be Vulnerable
One of the many repercussions of living in self-judgment is
that it allows us to keep a barrier within, keeping emotions at arm’s length
from our intelligence. A mind-to-soul disconnect then exists. Not only does
this prevent a knowing and accepting of whom each of us is, but also from being
open to true self-expression and reciprocal compassion.
Eliminating Personal Façade
Before a person can experience vulnerability, self-imposed
walls often used as coping mechanisms will need to be identified and eliminated.
These kinds of personal walls are built on the inside and used to shield us
from life triggers that can bring about fear, anger, or discontent from
unresolved issues in the past. In addition, when people create specific
personal façades about themselves such as the selfie culture on social media, it casts a false truth while
expressing what we want others to believe as real. This is a self-defeating
ritual that can compromise self-compassion.
Accepting What Is Real
Removing the veil of pretense is perhaps the most fulfilling undertaking one can do for oneself. It takes the pressure off of achieving unrealistic expectations while opening up the door to realizing self-esteem and the need to help others experience the same. The power of living authentically and surrounding yourself with people who are just as real is life-changing, exponentially.
Improve Quality of Life by Opening Your Heart
Nurturing compassion in any moment of the day empowers both the initiator and the receiver. Through self-love, you can reassess how to value yourself better and be gentle with yourself, ultimately serving the greater good. When humanity can get past the fear of what was and enjoy what is, the what will be is more fruitful to us all.
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Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.