When your view of people is not distorted by the parts of you that fear or need them, you are not as affected by the ways they protect themselves . Then your curiosity can lead you to see behind their anger or distancing and learn about the hurt they are protecting.
To clarify what is meant by compassion, I want to contrast it to pit and empathy. With pity, you see someone suffering and you feel sorry for them or her, but at the same time a part of you is glad that person isn’t you. Your mind is busy thinking of reasons you wouldn’t make the mistakes he or she made that led to the suffering. Pity involves both a protective distancing and a measure of condescension. Your sorry for the sufferer comes from a place of separateness.
When you feel empatyh, you see a person suffering, and because you have a certain level of self-awareness, you know a part of you suffers in the same way, so you identify with the sufferer’s pain. At some level, that person is the same as you. Empatyy opens your heart and produces a strong desire to help the person. The danger with empathy, however, is that if you identify too much, you will feel a pressure to relieve the other’s misery. You can’t tolerate your own pain, so you can’t stand for the other to spend any time suffering. The other common consequence of having too much empathy is to distance from the other person because his or her pain makes you hurt too much.
When you feel compassion, you see a person suffering, you feel empathy for him or her, and you know that the other has Self-Awareness-Energy which, once released, can relieve his or her own misery. If people relieve their own suffering, they learn to trust their own Self-Awareness-Energy, and they learn whatever lessons the suffering has to teach them. Compassion, then, leads to doing whatever possible to foster the release of the other’s Self-Awareness-Energy rather than become the other’s healer. With compassion, you can be open-heartedly present with sufferers without feeling the urge to change them or distance from them. This king of Self-Awareness-Energy Presence will often release their own Self-Awareness-Energy. (There are of course, situations in which the other’s Self-Awareess-Energy cannot be releases while he or she is overwhelmed by physical pain or illness. In those settings, the compassionate thing to do is to treat those conditions first while also holding the intention that relief leads to more Self-Awareness-Energy Leadership.)
Also, as you become increasingly Self-Awareness-Energy Led — increasingly aware of the ocean and not just the waves — the sense of separation between you and others is reduced. The desire to help people who suffer, as well as those who create suffering, arises spontaneously with increased appreciation of our interconnectedness. It arises from an intuitive understanding that the suffering of others affects you because, at some level, the other is you. (For most people, this is not a conscious thought — they just feel drawn to do something “more meaningful” with their lives. These lines from a poem by Buddhist monk Thick That Hath (1992) capture the compassion that arises from awareness of interconnectedness:
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones, my legs as thin as bamboo sticks, and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda. I am the 12-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat, who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate, and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving . . . Please call me by my true names, so I can wake up, and so the door of my heart can be left open, the door of compassion. (pp. 123-124)
—Internal Family Systems Model, Dick Schwartz , pp. 38-40
1. to be open heartedly present and appreciative of others without feeling the urge to fix, change or distance from them
2. an intuitive understanding that the suffering of others affects you because of your connectedness to them
3. to simultaneously have empathy for others and a belief that the other has a Self that once released can relieve his or her own suffering