GUIDED BY EMPATHY: DEFINING AND UNDERSTANDING COMPASSION
“True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those less fortunate than ourselves but from realizing our kinship with all beings.” - Pema Chodron
The computer monitor in my office is covered with post-it notes. Some detail important tasks or reminders. Some represent memories from clients both old and new. But the ones that stand out the most occupy the bottom section of my monitor; a collection acquired over the years that continue to inspire me. They encourage me to work a little bit harder; to remember why I do the work I do; of the man I want to be. The quote above is one of my favorites, and is at the center of this inspiring row of yellow paper squares.
What does it mean to be compassionate? I ask myself this question often in my quest to live a life guided by compassion. The common misconception about compassion is that it’s synonymous with pity. But compassion is so much more. Compassion is born from a deep feeling of empathy – knowing what that person is going through and viewing them as an equal. Without empathy compassion cannot be achieved, and it gives way to the feelings of pity and superiority.
I know the pain of addiction because I have experienced it. I know first hand how it can take over a life, influencing decisions and bending the morals and values once held dear. This is how my empathy developed, and why I care so deeply for every individual who reaches out to me for help.
“By helping others, you will learn how to help yourselves.” - Aung San Suu Kyi
This quote is another one of my favorites. Living a life guided by compassion for others makes me an effective admissions director and it is the cornerstone of my own recovery from addiction. When I focus exclusively on myself, the smaller my world becomes. I forget to appreciate the small things and I ignore the beauty that surrounds me. Having compassion for others cultivates a deep feeling of gratitude, and helps me find balance in life. Devoting my attention to the well being of others enables me to develop an increased feeling of self-worth, while also allowing me to shift my focus away from stress and worries that might otherwise consume me.
“Compassion is the ultimate expression of your highest self.” – Russell Simmons
I’m often asked what principles guide my recovery, and for me, recovery is a continually evolving lifestyle guided by the soul searching of what is healthy and what is unhealthy; what is beneficial and what is detrimental. I ask myself daily, “how would the best version of myself handle this situation?” Showing patient, kind compassion to every person I meet is the best version of myself. It is the recovery benchmark that I keep for every person I meet and every phone call I receive.