"Compassion It" Should Be a Verb
Northbrook, IL, my former hometown, is a well-tended and affluent suburb of Chicago with most everything imaginable that makes life good. Residents’ needs are mostly well-met with resources to spare for the highly desirables that make life sweet for many.
But disaster is an equal-opportunity visitor. Lately Northbrook and its neighboring village, Glenview, have been hit hard. The suicides of two beautiful young men within weeks of each other was preceded by the drowning death of a 4-year-old boy during a camp field trip, followed by a car crash that killed yet another young man…and most recently a train derailment due to a bridge crash that made national news, resulting in the deaths of a married couple known for their kindness.
All within weeks. In response to the tragedies involving the three young men, who went to the same high school, friends and family aligned with Compassion It as a social movement with a dual purpose: it aims at bettering everyday life through individual acts of kindness and seeks to provide fundraising opportunities for the support of worthy causes. Right now, Compassion It offers bracelets sold for $5.00 per pair. The proceeds of the effort, in the case above, are going to a scholarship established in the boys’ names.
Founded by Sara Schairer, I wanted to give Compassion It some well-deserved publicity on my little blog. The story can be found here on its Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/#!/Compassionit.world
In a nutshell, Sara is a newly accepted student at Stanford University's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE), where she hopes to "become as much of an expert on compassion" as possible. She describes Compassion It as her own social enterprise start-up. The idea ultimately is to move people away from the general concept of goodness to action in everyday life, and the bracelet is designed to help bring about that change. The bracelet is worn black side up until such time as the wearer accomplishes an act deemed compassionate by the do-er. Then the wearer can wear it white side up!
The first day I wore the bracelet, I had three opportunities to extend myself to strangers beyond ordinary kindness. Those are invariably gratifying for obvious reasons, including the enjoyment of the responses such novel behavior elicits. Other days I look for ideas, and often end up resorting to fairly simple anonymous acts. Then come the (gasp) acts of extraordinary consideration extended to the family, friends, and associates, with whom I am usually completely relaxed and utterly myself, warts and all.
That’s the hard part. It means I have to dial down my amusing (to me) cynicism and put a sheath on my sharp (when it’s thoughtless) wit. It means I don’t act annoyed at my husband, the kids, the cat, or the fish when I feel myself justified. I have to stop and think before I say something that could be construed as callous or hurtful by anyone. I am forced into mindfulness that is not a habit. On the plus side, these days I find myself bringing a slightly more emotionally advanced version of myself to places. Not always, but I am still in practice.
Being compassionate more often than not is much harder than it looks, and I don’t know if the world will ever change much beyond how most of us in our culture perceive it through my measly efforts. But my little corner has brightened a little, and maybe yours would, too, if you wore a daily reminder of how quickly any one of us might be called into the sanctuary of the suffering.
That vulnerability, my friends, is the common ground we all share. Every time I am able to turn my bracelet over, I think of lives lost, of everyone I’ve loved and/or lost - of my wish for us all, that in the face of any pain common to humanity, we’re never left entirely alone, never invisible to another who just might be of help or service, but doesn’t realize it…until some clarifying act takes place in the moment.