How Making Someone's Day Can Make Yours
Have you ever had a day when you were just not feeling it? A day on which you didn't want to get up and do all the things you were supposed to do? When the ceiling is the first thing in the morning you already didn't want to see? When other people are the biggest nuisance imaginable? And yet we want them to empathise with us, to understand how we are feeling. Can they not see that we aren't feeling good today? The outside observer, however, can never really know how we are feeling.
The human mind is like a closed room. Filled with everything we are: our thoughts, memories, experiences. Some are orderly and structured, some are chaotic and messy. Some are filled with bright light while others are dark. Some of them are a cosy place you like to spend time in, others less so.
We can, however, not see all these qualities from the outside. If you stand in front of a room you may hear noises from inside or catch a glimpse of a shadow underneath the door, but the inside is hidden and can only be seen if the person inside lets us in and shares their mind with us. Only then can we begin to grasp what someone is feeling and why they are how they are.
Of course we don't just tell anyone our inner workings, we have to trust that person. We don't want to burden a stranger with our mental state. The people we usually turn to are our friends, people we know are an important part of our lives. They will understand how we are feeling, or at least attempt to, they know who we are and yet they stick with us.In short, they feel compassionate towards us.
How compassion makes us human
Compassion is one of, if not the one, most important trait of our species.
We humans are social beings; working, living, and being together is what made us rise to the top of the food chain and what distinguishes man from beast. Had we been selfish and egocentric, we wouldn't have made it far in this world. Caring more about others than ourselves is therefore part of the very essence of what it means to be human.
The words compassion stems from the Latin word “compati” and literally means to suffer with. In modern English its definition is “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others”. Now, as an outside observer we don't see what someone is going through and likewise other people can't know what's going on inside of us.
Yet we want people to be acceptant of our behaviour, we want them to understand us even though they don´t know what we are feeling. Why would you, or I, or anybody else for that matter pay attention to the sensibilities of others though? Think of it this way: If someone does you a favour, something they could have easily not done but still did, you will like them better than before. The same thing applies the other way around; if you do someone a favour they will like you more too.
“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.”
It’s not about the reward
Now, not everyone is going to treat you well even when you treat them well. Let me share the fable of the crane and the wolf with you: One day a wolf was greedily devouring his prey, a little rabbit. Whilst eating a piece of bone got stuck in his throat and he could barely breathe. Afraid of dying he asked the other animals around if they would help him, but his bad reputation made the other animals avoid him. It wasn´t until a crane with a long beak came along that the wolf found someone who was willing to help him. Desperate, the wolf promised the crane a great reward if he helped him and since the crane with his long beak could easily do so, he put this bill down the wolf's throat and picked the bone out. Having fulfilled his job, the crane eagerly awaited his reward but the wolf just started cleaning his fur. “Wolf”, the crane asked, “what about my reward?” The wolf answered smugly: “Your head was in my mouth and I didn't bite it off. That should be reward enough.” Angered and betrayed the crane then left, swearing he would never trust the wolf again.
Is it not counterintuitive to tell this story? This only shows that people might still be ungrateful even if you did help them. And while this is true, it is also undisputable that the crane, whatever his motives, did the right thing. He saved a life and made the wolf’s day better. It might take the crane a day or even a week, but once his anger has blown away he will realize that his ire was temporary, while the pride he can take in saving someone's life is permanent.
The not so bad side effect of showing compassion
Now, being nice and sympathetic towards someone isn't the same thing as saving a life. But taking pride in how well you treat others and feeling good about doing good is a fail-safe method to having a great day. Knowing you made someone else´s day by paying attention to their worries, listening to their struggles and maybe offering a small piece of advice may not seem much to you in that moment, but this person, which could be anyone of us, is going to feel understood and less alone in their struggles.
Life can be tough sometimes. Nothing goes exactly the way we want it to, nothing we do feels good enough. And yet, each one of us carries within him the power to soothe or even get rid of this feeling in others. Repaying the kindness shown to them benefits us too, as they will raise us up when we feel down, making our day. And even if the others are ungrateful, knowing that we can take pride in our actions, that we did the right thing, is a feeling that can easily last a day.