Pushing the Boundaries of Compassion

CompassionSome time ago when I wrote a blog article on compassion, a friend of mine said that he certainly knew what compassion meant towards his friends and family, but found it hard to feel compassion towards people he had never met. I can understand what he meant and pushing the boundaries to eventually include the whole world is a challenge to us all.

I am using the words ‘love’, ‘care’ and ‘compassion’ interchangeably. Love has many different meanings and connotations. Compassion is putting love in action. It means doing something about what we see: without which it is at best, sympathy, or at worst is just pity.

Caring for our children

Loving and caring for our children is virtually universal in every culture of the world. We don’t just love our children, we care for them, protect them and ensure that they grow up knowing they are loved and valued.

In a small percentage of cases, when the children are completely neglected, we are shocked. Hearing of a child who dies of starvation while the parent, or parents, can eat what they want, is distressing to us all.

Loving our wife, husband or partner

Again it is quite natural to love our spouse. Loving again is an active word, and involves looking after the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the other person.

Love is not a feeling, it is an act of the will but unfortunately marriage does not always last, and many marriages end up as desperately unhappy, or fail completely in divorce. If we are going to push the boundaries of compassion we need a firm base, and a stable and happy marriage provides an excellent base from which to reach out to other people.

Looking after the extended family

We are not ‘pushing the boundaries of compassion’ too much to extend love to our brothers, sisters, parents, grand-parents, grandchildren, brother/sister/parents in law, aunts, uncles, cousins etc.

In today’s world, it is easy for the extended family to be disrupted by distance or by disagreements. I have a sister who is close to us, and another sister and one brother  who I hardly ever see; (though we have not fallen out)! But we are very blessed to have our 3 children and their families living close to us. We also get on well with our son’s parents in law, and we regard each other as family though strictly speaking they are not relatives.

How far our extended family reaches depends very much on the culture we live in. In many cultures around the world the extended family works well to ensure that elderly widows and aunts who have never married are included in the mutual care and love of the family.

In Africa, before AIDS decimated many families, orphanages hardly existed because if a child lost its parents, there was always someone: a grand-parent, an aunt or more distant relative who would take the child into their home and look after her or him. I remember visiting a pastor in Nigeria whose ‘children’ included an orphan girl from remote relatives. We in the West have much to learn from the cultures of the East and from the South.

Care for our Community

compassionCommunity is largely geographical but can reach to wherever our lives impact other people. Those who live in cities may find that there is little sense of community where they live. For instance we may travel a long way each day to the place of our employment, and yet there can be a real sense of community amongst our colleagues or work mates.

Our community may include the following:

  • People in a church, club, choir to which we belong.
  • Parents of other children who go to the same school as our children.
  • Work-mates, colleagues and their families.
  • People we come into contact with whilst doing our job.
  • People living in the same street as we do.
  • Fellow dog-walkers.
  • Local shopkeepers and their customers.
  • Other road-users!
  • People we may meet in a local pub, cafe or doctor’s surgery.
  • Anyone else living within a mile or two from our home or place of work.

As we seek to push the boundaries of compassion to our community we will come across people who are:

  • Lonely
  • Depressed
  • Sick
  • Mourning
  • Disabled
  • Marginalised by society
  • Unemployed
  • In financial need
  • In need of emotional or spiritual help

How do we show compassion to people in our community? If someone is sick, we may not be able to help practically or medically. But we may be able to visit them, encourage them, bring hope to them or even just send them a card or flowers. Christine and I belong to a choir and whenever another member goes into hospital they will be sent a bunch of flowers and we will all be encouraged to visit or send a card. I well remember nine years ago when I was hospitalised with a stroke, receiving over 100 cards wishing me a speedy recovery from friends, neighbours and people around the world.

Sometimes showing compassion involves meeting needs directly, involving money, skills or time. It may mean going to the shops for an elderly lady, or providing transport to someone for a hospital appointment. it may mean cooking a meal for a family in need or giving practical advise to a young person seeking a job.

Christine belongs to a “Good Neighbour’ scheme which seeks to help people who need a lift to the hospital, doctors surgery or to a community club for the elderly or needy. We should all be good neighbours but sometimes we are unaware of such needs without a scheme like this.

If we are going to really care for our community we need to be immersed in it. We may need to be involved with:

  • A local church
  • A parents association at a local school
  • An action group about local issues
  • A residents association
  • A local political party
  • A local club
  • A local charity as a volunteer

About 20 years ago, I came to the conclusion that the only people I was involved with was from my church. So I joined a local political party (no prize for guessing which) and was elected to a local council. Knocking on people’s doors was a great way of finding out what they cared about (and didn’t care about).

Jesus taught us to care for ‘the least” in our communities. He said that we were to:

  • Feed the hungry
  • Meet the needs of the thirsty
  • Give hospitality to the stranger or the foreigner
  • Providing clothes and meeting practical needs
  • Caring for the sick
  • Looking after the marginalised

Compassion to all Humankind

compassion2Jesus said that we were to love our neighbour, and deliberately chose to extend the idea of a neighbour to other cultures and races. There was to be nobody outside the boundaries of our love and compassion. He even said that we should love our enemies!

We talk now of a global village. As the communication revolution makes us aware of what is happening all over the world, the moment it happens, the needs of real people around the globe are beamed into our living rooms. We have a choice to make. We can shut our eyes, minds and hearts or we can allow compassion to rise within us and determine to do what we can to meet those needs.

The example we have is God himself. God loved each and every person in the whole world that he did something about it: he sent Jesus into our world. The bible says that we were created in the image of God: that is why we too can love every person in the world.

Having compassion towards every single person is pushing the boundaries of compassion to extreme limits. But as children of the living God we can have love for the whole of humanity and put that love into practise through compassion.

Author: George Dowdell

I was the founder of Karuna Action (formerly Kingscare) and was the director for 24 years. I have now handed control over to younger people but continue as an advisor and trustee. My passion is to see extreme poverty eliminated and to see justice for the powerless.

4 thoughts on “Pushing the Boundaries of Compassion”

  1. This is an excellent post. One of the issues is that many people find it difficult to extend compassion to those in the human family with whom they don’t indentify. The center of spiritual philosophy is to give us the frame work from which to appreciate that the welfare of the other person is directly tied to our own, and this applies even to those who we may consider our enemy. History is replete with walls to keep others out that have all been breached and wars to guarantee security and bring peace that have all led to more violence and insecurity.

    Regardless of identity, national, ethnic, religious or otherwise, all people want justice. And this includes economic and social justice. Without these, violence and discord reigns, with these peace and understanding flow. There is no human problem that we face today that is not rooted in the lack of justice.

    We must learn to love not only humanity, but all creation, and see that our individual welfare and survival is tied to that of all others. This interdependency is a basic law of evolution, and as science shortcircuits these consdierations we are paying the price with destruction of our health and environment.

    Greed and selfishness are the paradoxical opposities to this concept in our evolutionary development, but for the long haul the ability to love our neighbor as ourself will be the most important fact in the long term survival of our planet.


  2. George, excellent post. There are degrees of compassion, which could range from simple acts of kindness (letting someone merge in traffic, letting someone go ahead, being patient with an overworked and stressed customer service person of store clerk) to helping those in need. Sometimes we overgive to someone in need simply because we met them and would better serve more people to donate money, goods or time to an agency that helps many. So, this removes you somewhat from those in need, yet you are helping more in a distributed manner. One of my very compassionate executive directors calls this avoiding “disproportionate giving.” In my volunteer work, there is a selfish reason for helping others we should not lose sight of, When I help people, I feel better about myself. No money can give me that same satisfaction. Take care my friend, BTG


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