Listen, Learn, and then Act

The compassionate being desires to assist, to ease another’s burden. While a compassionate nature may be natural for many, the compassionate course of action can still seem fraught with uncertainty.

Observation of another’s behavior or need is not enough. The compassionate being must look beyond the symptoms and try to discern the cause of the symptoms. Only when the cause is understood can one truly act in a manner that is both compassionate and helpful.

An example I like to share deals with fibromyalgia. Years ago after an auto accident derailed me from my regular exercise routine, I was determined to get back on track, but unfortunately every time I tried to return to a routine which included exercise I would get sick. All of my symptoms indicated I had the stomach flu. I was nauseated, had chills, and ached all over. Compounding these symptoms was the feeling that I had over-done my efforts, often due to muscle soreness similar to overuse. For nearly ten years I struggled with these symptoms. Diagnosis was a tremendous relief and required a big change. I had to rethink much of what I knew about pain. With fibromyalgia one must move through the pain, taking time off as with exercise injury pain was not the solution. The very treatment I was implementing before diagnosis was, in reality, making my situation worse.

Many of the symptoms we see exhibited by other struggling or suffering through life can be easily observed but also be easily misdiagnosed. If we truly wish to compassionately help others, we must take the time to understand rather than simply observe. Without the investment of time, we may, in our compassionate desire to help, actually hinder the person we wish to help. “It is the thought that counts,” may be true with holiday gift giving, but it is not necessarily true when we try to show compassion. Well-meaning comments, suggestions, and acts can truly make a struggle worse.

When compassion surfaces, take the time to listen and learn; ask in what way you can act. If time is a commodity of which you have little, consider charitable contributions to organizations dedicated to serving people in need. It is better than well-meaning acts of compassion which are misplaced because of misdiagnosis. The last thing you would wish to do in your effort to show compassion is to cause harm because you are interpreting the symptoms incorrectly. When the desire to show your compassion is strong but your time is limited, help those who are dedicated to helping. While nothing can replace the investment in friendship and time, economic contribution is certainly better than shuffling compassion aside.

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