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Becoming Compassionate

The Compassionate Approach

© Km2008 | - Martin Luther King Jr Speech

by Helen McConnell. 

I wanted to share with you some thoughts sparked in me this morning by an excerpt from a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.  

As I prepare to teach a course on self-compassion, this passage jumped out at me as profoundly wise:

The nonviolent [compassionate] approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage that they did not know they had. Finally, it reaches the opponent and so stirs his/[her] conscience that reconciliation becomes a reality.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

First and foremost, we opt for compassion because we know it will be good for us.  It will change us in ways that we desperately need to be changed in order to live in this world.  We cannot make our choice to be compassionate to others contingent upon their response.  They may not notice.  They may reject us still.  Yet, if one has ever for a moment practiced compassion--put the Golden Rule into action--one experiences such a palpable inner change that it becomes irresistable to try it again . . . and again . . . and again.  An act of compassion is the surest way to eradicate all vestiges of shame and fear in a person's heart.  We feel more self-accepting and, as MLK, Jr. states in the passage above, experience a "new self-respect."  Thus, the motivation to choose compassion may originate in a strong desire for social-justice because of the world's inequalities, and that is a very good thing.  But to sustain compassionate action as a fundamental mode of operation, the ongoing motivator is the experience of increased self-worth that is the by-product of treating others as we wish to be treated ourselves.

Helen McConnell teaches at the Servant Leadership Center


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