As we develop more sensitive compassion antennae, and notice the compassionate action around us, it is likely that we will feel more inspired to commit acts of compassion.
A woman in one of my compassion groups was shopping in Plymouth. She was having a bad day. To cheer herself up (in the spirit of self-compassion) she decided to buy some fruit from a stall in the city centre. She selected four punnets, and as she handed a five-pound-note to the stallholder, an elderly man hobbled over and picked up a punnet of fruit. He held out a pound coin to pay, but my friend said “I’ll get those”. Smiling, he held out the coin to her. She told him “it’s a present”.
The man’s face lit up with pleasure as he exclaimed “Two wonderful things have happened today! The sun is shining and I’ve got a present!”
The stallholder also broke into a smile, and my friend told me her heart soared with joy. Committing this simple act of compassionate generosity made her day. It also made the elderly man’s day to receive a gift from a stranger, and the stallholder’s day to witness the interaction. It made my day to hear about it, and when the compassion group met the next week, it cheered us all, and inspired other members to reach out compassionately in similar ways.
We tend to think that compassion is a nice thing to receive, but that acting compassionately ourselves will take something from us. The more we practice compassion, the more we realise that what we gain can far exceed the cost.
My friend told our group that the pleasure she gained from gifting that fruit was worth £1000. Add to that the pleasure her act gave to others, and the example she set, and the gift was priceless.
Tam Martin Fowles
Originally broadcast on BBC Radio Devon Pause for Thought