Feeling genuine compassion for others who are struggling can be difficult and painful. In order to not constantly be sad about all of the terrible things happening in other people’s lives, human beings have grown adept at suppressing our kindness and compassion for one another when it suits us, and a lot of the time we don’t even realize we are doing it. In a way, this is a necessary skill, but sometimes we take it too far. Here are some tips on how to be more caring, without sacrificing your own sanity or happiness.
#1: Accept that you have prejudices, just like everyone else.
The first step to overcoming something is admitting you have a problem, and overcoming your personal prejudices is no different. It is a basic animal instinct to be fearful and unsympathetic toward people who are different from you or outsiders of your community. To find that empathy inside yourself will take a little digging. If someone calls you out on saying something racist, sexist, or offensive, take it as an opportunity to be introspective and think about how your words affect others. Remember, saying something hurtful or offensive doesn’t mean you are a terrible person – it just means you made a very human mistake. Try to make it right and learn from your experience.
#2: Try to overcome your biases by connecting with people who are different from you.
In her recent TED Talk, Verna Myers points out that spending time with awesome people of different backgrounds can help you overcome your biases and stop being afraid of people who are different from you. If you see someone who you would ordinarily walk away from, try walking toward them instead and build a meaningful connection. If you are uncomfortable approaching people who are different from you, that’s normal but sometimes you have to get uncomfortable before you can get comfortable. The more time you spend with people from outside of your circle, the more your biases will become diluted by connection, compassion, and empathy.
#3: Stop making excuses.
We all make excuses sometimes for why we can’t be compassionate towards others. “She shouldn’t have gone out alone,” “They shouldn’t have gotten so drunk,” “They should have changed the battery in their smoke detector” – none of these victims are deserving of a tragedy. We say things like “If I cared about every single person’s suffering, I would be too sad to do do anything,” but you don’t have to meditate on every death and tragedy to be compassionate. What you can do is acknowledge that they are tragedies and not make excuses for not caring.
#4: Stand up for people who have been victimized, and help them share their story.
Kindness spreads, and hearing people’s stories helps to promote empathy between us. If you hear a moving story that helps you relate better to people who are different from you, why not share those stories and feelings with others in your community? If you hear a story about someone who is victimized, recognize that for a lot of victims, speaking out can be very difficult and may open them up to even more violence and victimization. Many victims and even witnesses are afraid to report or talk about their experiences, but this conversation is crucial to prevent violence, abuse, and other traumas.
#5: Maintain boundaries and practice self-kindness.
Being caring doesn’t mean you have to be completely selfless, and there’s no shame in admitting that you need a break from your emotional entanglements from time to time. Remember – even superheroes need to take days off sometimes (Fortress of Solitude, anyone?). For all the kindness you show to others, don’t forget to be equally kind to yourself.
For more inspiration on how to be a better person, check out my Inspiration archive. Thanks for reading!