I recently interviewed to join the board of directors of a wonderful Minnesota non-profit called Tamarisk. Tamarisk helps with non-medical needs of the terminally ill and their families. During my interview they asked a fantastic question that has haunted me ever since:
What does compassion mean to you?
That's a heck of a thing to ask a person, right there! Not many questions can reach into the depths of your soul and pull something out of you quite like it. I blathered on and on, as though spiraling down towards an actual coherent answer. And in the end, to put it much more succinctly (be glad you didn't have to listen to me trying to find that inside my black heart), I found myself at:
Compassion means meeting others where they're at, without judgement or trying to fix their situation.
I think I was satisfied with that for awhile. But since, I've thought of other aspects of compassion that I wasn't able to quite nail down at the time. And in this era of 140 characters or less, I've continued to refine and chop and refine this down to one word:
Wait, you want me to just listen to what others have to say and not offer advice? Why shouldn't I want to fix everything? After all, I'm an engineer, I can fix all the things! Well, no, I can't. Nor can you. And to try and fix something we weren't asked to fix inherently indicates we are judging where someone is at (just ask Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray). If you are asked to aid in fixing a situation, then by all means, do so if it's in your power to help. But don't go bragging about it, because that takes away from the dignity of another in order to boost your ego.
There's that Dignity word again. The more I think about the word Dignity, the more I think about what more it can mean. Should anyone go hungry? Should anyone fear their rights being taken away? Should anyone suffer from violence? Should anyone suffer from bias based on race, weight, age, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or anything else that might separate us? There are so many organizations out there that help people. And hopefully these organizations ultimately preserve the Dignity of others directly or through activism.
What do those organizations need in order to be successful and make the world a better place? Two things: People and Money. People help people. And money is used to mobilize people and buy resources used to help others. If you're feeling invigorated or disaffected, I strongly recommend lending your time, as that is by far the most valuable commodity most of us can contribute. If you're unable to, then consider giving to a group to help back up your opinions. This can happen in a lot of different ways. Minnesota has a Give To The Max day, where you can find matching gifts. Each state and city has a similar site to help find causes.
Or, if you see a gap out there in the world, where you can help with the Dignity of others, start your own non-profit!