In the public health field, just like in many industries, compassion is central to what we do. Compassion is what makes us human and allows us to engage with others. By being more compassionate as a society, we can reduce struggling; both for ourselves and for others.
Why is Compassion Important?
Compassion is important because it promotes meaningful connections, facilitates problem-solving, and improves health and wellbeing. Compassion, at its core, is about putting aside judgment and refusing to turn away from challenging situations. It’s about understanding the struggles of another person and wanting to help.
Humans thrive in communities–we are meant to be social. And, compassion is a critical tool in creating strong connections and building relationships. By truly understanding and caring about what others are experiencing, you become better able to respond in helpful ways. Compassion can help you approach situations with kindness and interest, an approach that creates trust. From that strong foundation, lasting relationships can be built and potential problems can be tackled together.
Compassion is shown to improve health and wellness because of its ability to drive meaningful interactions. It pushes us to address inequality, cruelty, and the struggles of others. It encourages us to be kind. It allows us to see others and how we can help them or hold space for them. And, because we’re social animals, we may find ourselves unable to be happy all of the time if others are suffering.
How Can We Foster a More Compassionate Community?
A community that does its best to care for all its members will have less suffering. Everyone would have a place to live. Those struggling with addiction would get access to resources and treatment. People experiencing mental illness or a crisis would receive care, treatment, and ongoing community support. With total compassion and tenacious action from everyone, the community would thrive.
Unfortunately, this is not often the case. We may find ourselves engaged in communities that are distant and disconnected. We may see those around us suffering and turn a blind eye because we don’t know how to help. Yes, large issues like homelessness and mental illness seem daunting, but the first step is to acknowledge they exist. From there, we can take the following steps to become better, more compassionate advocates.
Engage with people who are different from you
Getting outside of our comfort zone can be scary, but getting to know people with different perspectives is an important part of understanding where they are coming from. By seeing and understanding someone else’s point of view, we see them for who they are: a human trying their best, just like us.
In order to be a compassionate person, we must let go of prejudice. We may have many prejudices, even some that we aren’t aware we have. One unfortunate, yet common, example is the belief that homeless individuals are undeserving of housing because they “haven’t worked hard enough…” or worse. We know that most judgments against the homeless community are untrue and biased, but to realize that, we have to take an honest look at what is going on. Many individuals who experience homelessness work incredibly hard. Some fell on bad luck. Others are coping with severe mental illness. Some face extreme societal barriers that left them unable to find long-term housing. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to reasons why people find themselves homeless.
When we judge others, we place a societal barrier on them. This judgment can lead to the individual facing further hardships. Without compassion, understanding, and the advocacy of others, individuals may lack the necessary resources, opportunities, and care to improve their current situation.
So, before you judge someone, put yourself in their shoes. Think through the hard questions so you can understand their circumstances. Imagine it was you. How would you want to be treated? Now, think about ways in which you can sustainably help. This may include recurring donations, volunteering, or speaking up against injustice.
Compassion isn’t simply about understanding someone else’s situation; it’s also about being inspired to act. For example, showing compassion to people with mental illness means taking the time to listen to them and support them. It means being there for them and letting them know they can count on you. It may mean listening, helping them find services or resources, advocating for better healthcare, or talking to your legislators and communities about the necessity of affordable care.
Compassion at Guild
Compassion is critical to what we do at Guild. We meet our clients where they’re at, both emotionally and geographically. Our staff understand barriers and can often relate to the struggles of our clients. And, at our core, we believe every person is worthy of care, dignity, and help.
If you are struggling with your mental health or find yourself experiencing chronic homelessness, we can help. Call our Community Access team at 651-925-8490 to learn more. If you are looking to make a difference in your community, you can volunteer for Guild. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our volunteer page to learn more.
Six Habits of Highly Empathic People, Greater Good Magazine
What Compassion Is, Psychology Today
How to Love Someone With a Mental Illness, National Alliance on Mental Illness