Is a month ever enough to celebrate the contributions of African Americans to our American experience? As we pause to reflect on those who have forged a way forward in liberty, justice and compassion, let us also examine how we can be informed and inspired today. Black history month signals an invitation to remember, act with purpose and re-engage with compassion.
Compassion is an emotion that comes from a place of concern for others. It’s a sense of shared suffering and with a deep desire to go out of our way to alleviate or reduce that suffering in others. As we interact with diverse communities, we have to be aware of the realities that these communities face. Many Black people feel that there are not treated fairly in our country, particularly by law enforcement, in hiring practices, immigration policies, higher education and mental health systems. Compassion is coming from a place that the injustice of one impacts all people. We can do our part to change larger injustices but cultivating compassion in our families, our workplace, our schools, our institutions, and simply within ourselves.
Compassion can help you feel happier as you work to do things that promote happiness in others. Contribute is a distress tolerance skill we often teach in therapy because doing for others when you are depressed has a favorable impact on you and the person you did something for. Compassion has been found in scientific studies to increase DHEA hormone which counteracts the aging process, by counteracting the stress inducing hormone cortisol. Overall, those who have a positive connection to others are healthier and found to be more resilient to illness. That makes compassion beneficial to your physical and mental wellbeing.
The key to developing compassion in your life is to make it a daily practice.
3 Compassion Practices
- Create a morning routine. Start your day bringing awareness to you. Notice your body in bed, take a few deep breaths, slip into your prayers or maybe a morning affirmation like this one: I am loving and compassionate to myself and others or today, I abandon old habits and take up new, more positive ones or “today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can,” the Dali Lama.
- Read carefully. Expand your library and invest in books that nurture your social conscience. Books that will facilitate conversations about relationships, the human struggle and empathy. Books like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry; Crossing the Wire; Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria; The Emperor Has No Clothes; and Wonder. It’ll give you a chance to consider things from a new perspective.
- Seek opportunities for awesomeness. What can you actually do to ease suffering? Volunteer at a local nursing home, put on a free workshop at a local library using your gifts or trade, pay for someone’s meal, donate to a charity, send flowers to a friend, bring your assistant coffee, pass along a book you’ve read, research other ways to lend a hand, invite someone to lunch and practice these tiny acts regularly, even daily.
“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.