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Alouette Library Learning Commons: What is Compassion?

What is Compassion

Compassion is the ability to feel for another living being. Empathy is the ability to not only understand another's feelings, but also to become one with that person's distress… to put yourself in their shoes and imagine what they're going through in that situation


Compassion is a genuine sympathy for hardship or suffering that other people are experiencing, and a desire to ease that pain. There are many different ways to show compassion for others; the important thing is that it comes from your heart. Ignore differences and find commonalities to help you relate to what someone else is going through. Whether you’re interacting with a friend, colleague, peer, patient, or family member, here are some ways you can demonstrate your compassion.

1. Start with Yourself.

The best way to learn how to be compassionate toward others is to be compassionate with yourself. Praise yourself for your successes (even things as little as making your bed in the morning) and forgive yourself for your mistakes. Focus on your strengths and positive qualities.

2. Communicate Verbally and Non-verbally. 

Make eye contact, keep your body turned toward the person speaking, and listen quietly. You might also practice active listening, which involves paraphrasing what you’ve just heard, and ask open-ended questions to send the message that you’re ready to hear more.

3. Touch (if appropriate).

A gentle touch goes a long way. To be sure touch is welcome, ask first. Try “Would you like a hug?” or “May I touch your shoulder?” Gentle touch assists in balancing physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. A soft touch to the hand or shoulder during the conversation helps demonstrate your genuine care and concern.

4. Encourage Others.

 When we praise and encourage others we can sometimes kick-start a positive spiral of behavior in that person. Positive reinforcement is always helpful to a person who is thinking they are either stuck or will never get out of the circumstances they are in at that moment.

5. Express Yourself.

Don’t assume that because you’re dealing with someone else’s strong emotions, your own emotions have no place in the interaction. Match your facial expressions to your felt emotions to let another person know you understand what they are going through. A sincere smile often works wonders. It is also okay to show sadness by crying or to laugh without reservation. A good laugh can be incredibly healing.

6. Show Kindness.

Give your kindness away without expecting anything back. Kindness is contagious. The person you are being kind to benefits through your help and you’ll feel good for having helped someone. The world is made better through your kindness.

7. Respect Privacy.

Be attentive to someone’s personal privacy. Protect their dignity. Shut the door, pull the curtain, and don’t gossip. Remember that sometimes people just need to go for a walk or see a movie with a friend. Be ready to listen when they want to talk, but also offer a different kind of interaction if they don’t want to talk about the hard stuff.

8. Learn How To Advocate.

An advocate is a person who speaks up for and defends the rights of another person by helping them communicate their needs in a challenging situation (such as a hospital visit). To effectively advocate, you must actively listen to what your friend needs and communicate in an assertive and respectful manner to help them take advantage of resources in your community.

9. Volunteer.

Cultivate compassion through volunteer service. Volunteering connects you to others, giving you the opportunity to make new friends and increase your social skills. Spending time helping people is good for your body, mind, and soul.

10. Consider Your Words.

Think before you speak. At its heart, compassion is about paying attention to the present moment with a loving attitude. Simple things like turning off your cell phone during a personal encounter or sending a thank-you note after someone has you over for dinner can go a long way.

Compassion arises through empathy and is characterized by actions. The simple act of showing compassion can make a world of difference in someone’s day (and in yours!). You don’t need to wait for a crisis to practice compassion, either. Try smiling at a stranger today.

SIMPLY PUT - Compassion is Empathy in Action

Join the Conversation

Now it's Your Turn


Select a picture book that catches your eye. (Don't forget to use a shelf marker!)

Carefully read the book you chose.  Pay extra attention to the illustrations.  When you have finished the book, ask yourself these questions:

1.  How does the character or characters show empathy?

2.  How do the characters show compassion? (Remember compassion is an action)

3.  What kind of struggle is the main character experiencing?

4.  What message is the author trying to convey?  How could this book be used to help someone?

5.  Would this be a book that you would recommend?  Why or why not?