Spevak: Compassion is a one-size-fits-all gift

By John SpevakDecember 21, 2012 

It may seem a little late, just days before Christmas, for gift suggestions.

I have one, however, and it is timely and universal and can be given to anyone. I suggest the gift of compassion.

As I see it, this gift would be in the form of a virtual certificate, good not only on Christmas Day but throughout the next year.

This virtual certificate, if it were in words, would read, "I will show compassion to you at whatever point in the next year you need it."

Who needs compassion? Those who have endured the worst misfortunes lately, people who are hungry, homeless or unemployed or who have suffered some recent tragedy.

But there are also many others who need compassion -- those who are ill, weak, lonely, depressed or grieving. They include people down the block, on the other side of the city, or just passing through town -- people we know well, people we occasionally associate with, even people we meet for the first time.

They also include the people closest to us -- our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, as well as our good friends. All people, it seems, in one way or another, are in need of compassion.

Compassion, according to its word history, means "suffering with" or "feeling with." A person practicing compassion feels another person's emotion by listening closely and saying something like, "Yes, I understand."

A compassionate person is not necessarily a problem-solver. Sometimes problems are almost unsolvable. A compassionate person simply lets others know that their feelings are important and their problems are difficult.

Compassion is appropriate at Christmas because Christ, whose birthday we celebrate, continually stressed in his earthly life the importance of compassion.

His actions consistently showed compassion for the physically and mentally ill, for those grieving because of the illnesses or deaths of family members, for those distressed by the anxiety in their lives, and for those in need of forgiveness.

His teachings and stories epitomize compassion: the good Samaritan, the shepherd who seeks his lost sheep, the father who throws his arms around his lost prodigal son.

Compassion is also an appropriate holiday gift for non-Christians. Compassion is a part of every spiritual practice and tradition. Jewish scriptures, for example, stress compassion for the less fortunate, like widows and orphans. Islamic spiritual teachings encourage compassion, as seen, for example, in the poems of Rumi.

Compassion is also central to Buddhists, Hindus and Taoists, as well as the spiritual teachings of Americans Indians, African tribesmen and Australian aborigines.

Compassion, however, is not an easy virtue. Like love and peace, compassion is easier to talk about than practice. In today's world, where time is so valued, giving time to another is hard. We're all on the move, with little or no time for others.

Compassion is also difficult in today's world of isolation. Often we don't know who our neighbors are. And we don't want the responsibility -- or the liability -- of getting involved.

Compassion is also hard on emotions. Suffering with someone -- feeling their discomfort, pain or sadness -- depletes our energy as well our time.

Yes, compassion indeed makes a good Christmas gift. It's needed by so many. And it's often (but not always) deeply appreciated by those to whom it's extended.

We don't need to write compassion on a gift certificate. We don't even have to tell people we're extending compassion to them. We just have to be compassionate.

By the way, let's also hope that during the Christmas season and throughout the upcoming year, we not only give but receive the gift of compassion. Each of us, no matter how strong or independent, needs to feel the comfort of compassion, especially from those closest to us.

Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 29 years, are encouraged, and can be sent via email to john.spevak@gmail.com.

Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 29 years, are encouraged, and can be sent via email to john.spevak@gmail.com.

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