Compassion is generally associated with softness and nurturing, “being with” another person who is in pain. But compassion can also include taking action to alleviate pain. Sometimes this more active way of expressing compassion is more fierce, requiring strength and courage.
This type of compassion can take the form of speaking and saying difficult things. This may include speaking up to protect someone, supporting them in meeting their needs or motivating another to be their best self. It requires strength and courage to say difficult things, yet this is what compassion calls for.
Even when speaking with fierce courage, Compassionate Listening calls us to speak from the heart. The root of the word “courage” is “cor”, which is the Latin word for heart. Our speaking can be both from the heart with kindness and fiercely courageous.
The trick is in saying difficult things from a place that others may be able to hear. To be most effective our intention for taking action must come from a desire to benefit others - in service of relationships, reduction of harm, or for another’s growth or well-being. Timing is key.
Here are a few suggestions to consider when speaking from the heart:
Tune into your heart; if it feels closed, pause and reflect on whether now is the time to proceed.
Compassion and kindness are evident when we are connecting, protecting, providing support and motivating others. Are you experiencing any of these?
Are you feeling morally superior to the other person? If so, try to remember our common humanity.
Check in with yourself to see if you are emotionally reactive. If so, pause and regulate.
Resist speaking when you feel hostility ("Do I want my adversary to suffer?"); see if you can move to a place of kindness and care.
Avoid shame and blame; invite others into the dialogue in a respectful way.
Consider: Am I truly curious about the other person, or is this about me pushing my agenda? Can I cultivate curiosity here?
Consider: If someone is being harmed, am I willing to speak and take action?
Consider: Am I willing to feel the pain of the other as my own?
Sharon Gubbay Helfer is a facilitator with The Compassionate Listening Project. Keep an eye out for workshops facilitated by Sharon and other CL facilitators on our events calendar: