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September 3, 2010 / Jenny Ann Fraser

The Side Effects of Cultivating Compassion

As I have mentioned more than a few times on this blog. I move fast. I walk fast, I talk fast, and I like things to be done quickly because it is difficult for me to slow down.

If you are walking in front of me say on a sidewalk or in a mall, chances are you walk slower than I do and the fact that you are slowing me down will make me want to smack you in the back of the head. Don’t worry, I have impulse control and I won’t do it. You won’t even know that you are annoying me.

Instead of smacking you in the back of the head, I will be having an internal conversation with myself that goes something like this. “Jenny. You can’t expect the rest of the world to move at your speed! They never will. So relax already!”

I have probably had this conversation a million times. Not because I’m afraid that I will suddenly turn into a violent person but because I hate being irritated, so I have to change what irritates me. I cannot control anyone else, and that is a good thing. The last thing this world needs is 7 billion hyperactive people running around at top speed forgetting what the hell they are doing.

I am also bossy and more than a bit of a know-it-all but I promise, I am working very hard to curb this tendency in myself or at least restrict it to my blog. I care passionately about most things if I care about them at all, and quite frankly, I want the whole world to be different. I want a better world where we do not face the threat of extinction due to climate change. I want there to be no war. I want to see an end to poverty. I want to see the entire world working together to make it safe, and happy and healthy for all, and I actually believe that it is possible. But I cannot fix everything and I might not be able to fix much. The first thing I can do, is try, to the best of my ability not to contribute to the problems but to focus on solutions.

A few years ago, I began making a conscious effort to be more compassionate toward those around me. I wanted to learn to become more forgiving, and less judgemental towards all of the people I encounter every day as I go about my life whether it is the woman who serves my coffee on my way to work, the customer in front of me who slows down the cashier, or the homeless person who asks me for change. I try to remain aware so that I don’t forget that the human being am interacting with is in fact a human being. We all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. We all need it. If everyone committed to giving this to each other all of the time, we would have a very different world indeed.

I will admit that automatically responding to each and every person consistently all of the time is an incredibly tall order and I am far from successful. I admit, that I question whether it is completely possible to behave with love towards everyone all of the time, but of course it can’t be if I don’t try.

Our brains have been hard-wired for the ideas, beliefs and thought patterns that make us who we are, and determine how we perceive the world around us. Ridding myself of critical and judgemental thoughts and replacing them with new ones takes serious time and effort.

What I have learned so far is that the benefits begin to show almost immediately and continue to increase all of the time.

What we do and how we behave will always be determined by what we think, so what we think has profound and far-reaching effects not just on our lives and the lives of those who are closest to us, but on the entire world.

What we consume and how we live impacts the entire planet and the effects can cost lives thousands of miles away. There are wars going on in far too many places often over the very resources that we depend on to maintain and improve our standard of living, just to name a few examples.

My goal each day is to catch myself judging others. I try to find forgiveness for those who might be doing things that I don’t believe in or respect. I try not to think about smacking people in the back of the head for walking too slow.

In short, I am trying to grow in love for my fellow-man even when he pisses me off.

I might not always want to give change to every person who asks me and I couldn’t afford to if I did, but looking someone in the eye, giving them a big smile and saying “I’m sorry I can’t but I wish you luck,” doesn’t cost anything and it doesn’t take any time. Trying to make the cashier at the grocery store laugh just for the fun of it isn’t always successful but it sure is worth the effort. The same big smile aimed at the person who bumps into me because they weren’t paying attention makes both of us feel better and again, free. What would happen if we all went out of our way to brighten the days of those we encounter?

I do not try to be kind so that I will get something in return. The return is that it feels damn good.

Warning: Side effects may include…

It turns out that love and compassion have magical properties. The more you give, the more they grow, leaving you with even more to give away. I suspect that this process might go on to infinity. I know that we can never run out, and that isn’t even the best part.

The best part is that I discovered that the more I grow in love and compassion for others, the more I have for myself. I have finally learned to forgive myself and with forgiveness comes the realization that I am no better than anyone. And that means that I am no worse.

It means that I no longer need to beat myself up for mistakes that I make. It means that my best is good enough, and I am doing my best. This is how I learned to love myself and there is nothing better than that.

Still there’s more. These things are contagious. Ideas, behaviours and actions can spread throughout a population which is why I try not to worry too much about what others are doing. I’m busy trying to spread a virus.

My hope is that more and more of us will begin to realize that we all have so much to give. If ever-increasing love and compassion and self-esteem are the side-effects of cultivating compassion who wouldn’t want to give it a try?


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12 Comments

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  1. rob white / Sep 3 2010 5:12 pm

    I love your honesty, Jenny Ann! Being compassionate for others is essential for truly knowing ourselves. We can ONLY see what we believe about ourselves, and we do this anytime we offer an opinion about the world or someone in it. This opinion reveals something about us… that is, the people who “piss us off!” Whenever we get annoyed by anyone, we are simply saying “hey! I’m more important than you! how dare you!” When I catch myself being annoyed by others, I remind myself it is time to revolt! That is, revolt against my own wrong way of seeing things.

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Sep 4 2010 5:36 pm

      As always Rob, I LOVE what you are saying. It is so true.
      I read somewhere that we will only mistreat others to the level that we are willing to mistreat ourselves, and we will only allow others to mistreat us to that level. I wish I could remember where I read that!:)
      It is all about correcting our thoughts.

  2. shiona / Sep 4 2010 6:46 am

    This is wonderful indeed, Jenny. If more people set themselves the task to develop more compassion and tolerance for others, the would would definitely be a better place.

    I agree that often it pays back well. However, being a very sensitive and compassionate person by nature, I should warn you to set your boundaries and protect them well. While people are genuinely grateful for your empathy, they soon learn how to take good advantage of it.

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Sep 4 2010 5:38 pm

      Hi Shiona, nice to “see” you.
      Never fear. I have very well-defined boundaries and they always serve me well. I have found that becoming more compassionate has made it much easier to enforce my boundaries because I no longer feel I have to give to prove that I am a good person. If I am taken advantage of, which almost never happens, I am aware that it is simply because I have a lesson to learn.

      • shiona / Sep 5 2010 10:26 am

        Lucky you. I often have problems finding the balance. 🙂

  3. Katie / Sep 6 2010 7:56 am

    Wow, Jenny. I just found your blog via Belinda at The Halfway Point and I have to say, reading this post brought a tear to my eye and enlivened my heart. I’m like you in so many ways – especially the walking fast, bossy, curbing my judgmental ways part. I love your blog and shall return for big doses of love and inspiration. Thank you.

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Sep 6 2010 11:05 am

      Well thank you for stopping by Katie! It’s always a pleasure to meet another fast walker. 🙂

  4. Belinda Munoz + The Halfway Point / Sep 7 2010 12:22 am

    Another great post, Jenny. I can relate to everything you say here (including wanting folks to get out of my way when I’m at my full-on speed!). I do so think about giving love a try as often as I can. Clever title!
    Yay for the side effects of compassion!

  5. Emily Jane / Sep 8 2010 11:10 am

    You had me at “the fact that you are slowing me down will make me want to smack you in the back of the head” 🙂

    I agree with everything you say here – a little compassion goes a LONG way, and the good (and I guess, sad in a way) thing is that it makes such a difference because it is so unexpected. I also love what Rob said about catching yourself becoming frustrated, and revolt on our own habits – this is something I should take note of next time I’m stuck behind someone in the hallway 🙂

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Sep 8 2010 8:24 pm

      Hi Emily,
      Yes, I totally love the idea of revolt! I thought of it just tonight as I made my way home. I immediately recognized that the irritation was caused by my thoughts, not the other person. I am grateful to Rob for that!

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