Compassion: The Human Superpower

Whether the act of giving selflessly to another can ever be truly altruistic or is instead merely a consequence of the desire for personal reward is a complex and intriguing debate which continues to fascinate me: are we born with the ability to care for others or is it something we are taught as a result of our environment?

Personally, I believe that the ability for humanity to spread kindness and goodwill on both a national and global scale is an ingrained part of our natural design. Through giving to others, we benefit not only them but an entire community – it is a sustainable, nurturing and enriching act which in turn can only generate further joy, emphasising how even the smallest actions can have incredibly powerful consequences. However, while the personal sense of self-fulfilment that comes from participating in a charity event, buying lunch for a homeless person or volunteering for a peaceful organisation is undeniable, I believe that we are motivated to help others by more than our own gain.

Knowing that we have helped others in even some small way is so rewarding, yet I continue to hope that the reason we are so quick to reach out in a time of crisis and negativity is because of our true inner selflessness and urge to ensure the safety and happiness of others due to our natural capacity for care and compassion. The support offered by so many in the wake of recent events such as Hurricane Harvey and the floods in Texas, the way bystanders have put their own lives at risk during terrorist attacks around the world, and the continued brilliance of emergency, health and social services continues to inspire me and emphasise the fact that compassion is not a consequence of social pressure, self preservation or self reward. The danger and strain that so many people willingly put themselves through to help others reflects the global phenomenon of the power of care, love and optimism that radiates through neighbourhoods and continents even in troubled times.

I would argue that the ability to be compassionate is our human superpower, our gift to each other and ourselves. For many of us, though there will always be exceptions, there are almost no barriers to us exercising this ability to be kind and to care and to spread happiness as far and as often as we can, in whatever form that may take. Whether it’s accompanying an elderly neighbour to the shops, working as part of community efforts in deprived areas around the world to provide housing, food or water, or even simply smiling and complimenting someone, we have taken the time to attempt to help others and positively impact them. All it takes to make someone else’s day, even to save their life, is a few moments of consciousness and awareness.

Compassion is our human superpower – one almost all of us are able to exercise on a daily basis. It is incredible what can be achieved when the strength of caring, nurturing and aiding others is demonstrated, and striving to be more mindful of how we can contribute to the happiness of others through our words and actions is one of the easiest ways we can begin this journey towards a more peaceful and harmonious human experience. It is not only in times of distress (though then it is most crucial) that we should aim to explore the depths of kindness. Being compassionate to others and ourselves is one of the most fulfilling ways in which we can achieve inner peace and a more connected, sustainable society.

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Wasting Our Own Time

So often we hear the phrases “I’m so busy”, “I don’t have time for that”, “I haven’t had a minute to myself all day”; often we hear these phrases from our own mouths. We seem to live in a society where everybody is getting busier and busier, and free time seems to gradually be turning into a luxury of the past: the average person reports they have just 4 hours and 14 minutes of free time a day due to the constant conflicting pressures of work, education, relationships, domestic chores and staying fit as well as the time needed for eating, showering and sleeping. However, while just over 4 hours doesn’t sound like very long, let’s break this down. In 4 hours and 14 minutes you can go for a run, catch up with a friend over coffee, finish reading a chapter of a novel and even after all that find time to binge-watch a couple of episodes of your current Netflix obsession. In reality, while it’s still not much, we have a lot more time for ourselves in our typical 24 hour day than we may realise, and arguably even more free time during the weekends (on average). So why do we always feel like we never have enough time to relax?

I dislike the obsession with blaming so much of society’s “problems” on the rise of social media, but in this case I can’t help but feel technology is playing an increasing role in the way that we often perceive ourselves as being so busy, and the fact that we feel as though we’re seldom able to completely unwind. Our work lives are no longer so neatly defined: even after we’ve left school or the office (sometimes already late into the evening), we’re being interrupted in our domestic and social space with email alerts, calls from colleagues, and the pressure to “just quickly check these figures” using our laptops or phones at 2am. As a consequence, we are rarely switching off from our work due to the fact that technology enables us to be so interconnected – while this can be positive, there is also the danger of futile attempts at multi-tasking and the feeling of being burnt out and exhausted by the end of the week due to a lack of focus upon our own needs.

Similarly, many of us rarely take the time to focus on one task at a time: we scroll through social media while we’re on the bus or having lunch, we check our messages while walking, we have multiple tabs open at once on our devices keeping our brains distracted and our minds unable to fully interact with the present. It is this lack of silence, of putting away our phones, that arguably contributes to the feeling that we are always involved with something, and thus never relaxing. Many of us turn straight to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat as soon as we get through the front door and joyously reconnect to our wifi, instantly responding to and engaging with a multitude of events and people before we’ve even sat down. Of course, not all of us are like this, but I worry about the rising trend of having a device in one hand at almost all times, rather than allowing ourselves to be fully engaged with the present moment and our current surroundings.

So how can we attempt to combat the emotions of restlessness that so often accompanies the rising domination of technology in our lives? From the personal changes I’ve made in my own life, I’ve found attempting to be as present as possible in everything I do has made the biggest difference. Yes, share those memories and experiences on social media, but take a picture or video or send that message and then put your phone away. Stop scrolling endlessly through apps while you’re walking and instead focus on the nature around you: take the time to appreciate the beauty of the world around you and give your brain a break from the constant absorbing of information. Focus on the sensations around you, the smell of the earth after the rain, the way the evening light turns the summer sky a dusky pink, and allow yourself to fully enjoy it. When you have free time, revert to more gratifying, wholesome ways of relaxing: enjoy a meet up with friends, but properly engage (don’t check your phone every half an hour), read a book, bake a cake, have a long bath, learn an instrument or new sport or simply go for a walk. Invest in yourself during your free time, maybe use it to pursue a hobby or passion, and you will feel far more rewarded than if you spent the hours vicariously living through the experiences of others and refusing your body a chance to focus on a single task, and to switch off.

Some people thrive off being busy, and there is no denying that so many of us struggle to balance all the demanding aspects of our lives on a day to day basis for various reasons other than technology – I don’t wish to condemn this concept at all. However, the next time you hear the words “if only I had the time” form on the tip of your tongue, take a moment to re-evaluate your priorities and the way in which you interact with your surroundings and commitments: you may not have endless hours, but you have enough.