Do you remember the first time you learned about compassion, this beautiful, fundamental aspect of human existence? Believe it or not, I'm pained to say I do remember learning about compassion, because the memory is still incredibly fresh. And this, I think, is a serious problem.
You see, I'd prefer my memories of compassion to be like my memories of learning about kindness, or friendship, or potty training. In other words, non-existent! Events so embedded in my cultural fabric that they are simply part of who I am.
Yet, it wasn't until I was a sophomore in college when compassion and I would be first introduced to one another, and even then it was a fluke. You would be hard pressed to find compassion mentioned in any of my business classes, and less forgivably, in any of my psychology or sociology classes, either. It wasn't until I found myself in a course called "Consciousness: The Farther Reaches of Human Nature" at the University of Washington that compassion would make its grand debut into my life. Such an experience would have lasting, transformative effects on my relationship with others, the Earth, and even to myself.
In class, I learned the meaning of the word compassion--the ability to experience the suffering of others with the desire to relieve them of their suffering. Why had it taken so long to learn something so essential to our well-being and deeper humanity? That seems like quite the cultural oversight!
As I reflect on the situation, I realized that practicing compassion is an act of rebellion of sorts, from the tired, corrupt forces in the world we yearn to transform. It means to humanize the enemy instead of othering them. To humanize the stranger instead of stereotyping them. To humanize ourselves instead of all the ways we tell ourselves we are not worthy of love, happiness, or belonging.
After graduating from the university, I had the profound fortune to meet Hereditary Chief Phil Lane Jr., a renowned Native American luminary and humanitarian. Uncle Phil (which he graciously invited me to call him) happened to be the Chairperson of a burgeoning non-profit called Compassion Games International. Well, Uncle Phil has an unrelenting faith in young people, and soon after meeting him I joined the Compassion Games: Survival of the Kindest team.
The Compassion Games' mission is to bring compassion to life through the power of cooperative play and friendly, competitive altruism. To date, 462,881 volunteer players have given 1,388,643 hours to serve 5,161,859 people in over 40 countries through the Games. This year--from November 29th through December 10th--the Compassion Games will host an annual event called The Giving Games: Youth and Schools Play It Forward, which will unite people in a global celebration of compassion and help the next generation of youth grow into creative, happy, and resilient members of our world.
As we take in what seems to be a deeply divided moment for our collective humanity, I realize compassion is more important for discovering our common ground than ever. I am humbled to pass on what I've learned to thousands of youth this November and beyond. May they learn the meaning of compassion far sooner than I ever could!
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the #GivingTuesday Team at 92nd Street Y, to celebrate #GivingTuesday. #GivingTuesday is a global giving movement, and the series (which will feature content throughout November) aims to celebrate how people are giving back around the world. For more information about #GivingTuesday, visit here. And to join the conversation on social media, use the hashtag #GivingTuesday.