Beyond Empathy: The Power Of Compassion

Beyond EmpathyThe Power Of Compassion

Are you more empathetic or compassionate? Do you know there are surprising benefits of compassion? Read on to know why compassion is good for us and how we can do more of it.

Among so much disheartening news these days, once in a while there is a bright spot that is truly heart-warming. Such was the case when I read about, and watched on video, 21-year-old Naomi Osaka’s act of kindness and compassion toward 15-year-old Coco Gauff at the U.S. Open. After losing in the third round at the U.S. Open, Gauff was on the sidelines unsuccessfully trying to fight back tears.

Osaka immediately went over to her and offered kind words, and then invited her to be part of the post-match interview (which is usually only for the victors). During that interview, Osaka became teary as she spoke to Gauff’s parents in the audience, recalling being at the same training facility as Gauff, and acknowledging Gauff’s hard work, and how both they (the parents) and Gauff are “amazing.”

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Surprising Benefits of Compassion

Interestingly, by expressing compassion, not only does the recipient of the compassion benefit but so too does the one giving compassion. Some of the many benefits to the person expressing compassion include reduced levels of cellular inflammation, increased perceptions of happiness and an experience of pleasure, a buffering effect against stress, an increase in longevity, a broadening ability to see a wider perspective outside of oneself, and increasing feelings of social connection (which in and of itself have major implications for health and well-being).

Empathy Versus Compassion

Whereas empathy involves putting yourself in another’s shoes and feeling the suffering of others, compassion goes further and involves a genuine wish or act to alleviate another’s suffering and to be with another in their suffering. This was the case with Osaka.

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Beyond Empathy: The Power Of Compassion

She could have walked off the court and in her own mind recalled what it was like to publicly lose at the U.S. Open (as had happened to her the year prior), and felt in her body what she imagined that Gauff might be feeling, by remembering or imagining the pain of such a moment.

But instead, she went further and reached out in such a genuinely compassionate way, in a moment that Gauff will likely never forget, and in a way that likely changed Gauff’s experience of her own suffering. Such moments are truly precious and we all have the capacity to offer them. In fact, the impact of doing so may be more far-reaching than you realize.

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A Personal Recollection

I still vividly remember such an act of compassion when I was 15. It was at my mother’s funeral, and I recall we were pulling into the driveway of the temple where the funeral service was being held. My mom had died tragically in a car accident, and it was a time of intense grief and suffering for my family and I.

As I looked up through my tears, I saw three of my friends from my dance class walking into the sanctuary to be at the funeral. I had no idea they were coming, and I certainly hadn’t expected them to be there. The fact that they had taken time from their own lives to be with me during this darkest time, to be present with me in my pain, was something I never forgot.

Sometimes, because seeing another person suffering is difficult, we might shy away from opportunities to reach out. At other times, we might feel helpless because we are not sure how we can make a difference. Other times, people may feel uncertain about how to express compassion.

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Beth Kurland

Beth Kurland, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, author, and public speaker with over 20 years of experience. With a passion for and expertise in mindfulness and mind-body strategies, she helps people across the lifespan to achieve whole-person health and wellness. Her newest book is Dancing on the Tightrope: Transcending the Habits of Your Mind and Awakening to Your Fullest Life. She is also the author of the award-winning books The Transformative Power of Ten Minutes: An Eight Week Guide to Reducing Stress and Cultivating Well-Being (Finalist in the Health and Wellness category by Next Generation Indie Book Awards) and Gifts of the Rain Puddle: Poems, Meditations, and Reflections for the Mindful Soul (Winner in Gift/Novelty book category by Next Generation Indie Book Awards). Drawing on research and practices from mindfulness, neuroscience, positive psychology, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, she teaches people how to grow the inner resources for resiliency and well-being. On her website, BethKurland.com, she offers many short, free meditation audios and videos that people can incorporate into their day.View Author posts