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5 Simple Techniques for Cultivating Compassion for Others in Your Daily Life

Written by Kayla Reetz, Trauma Supports Director & Kids Yoga + Mindfulness Instructor

"The distinction between compassion and pity lies in our motivation; we help out not out of guilt or sadness, but out of a genuine desire to see the other person succeed." ~ Kayla Reetz

In a recent blog post, I shared some ways to show compassion to yourself.  For many, this can be one of the hardest things to put to practice.

This blog focuses on exploring the concept of compassion towards others—both what it is and what it isn't. My hope is that something in this blog inspires you to practice compassion in your own life.

Compassion. Can you imagine having to explain what that word is and what it means to 6-year-olds freshly starting kindergarten?  It is such a big word both in its length- especially for kindergartners- and in its meaning, which can make it equally difficult to understand for high schoolers and adults. 

Here’s how I talk about it.

"Think of the last time you truly helped someone.  Maybe it was a simple thing, like picking up something they dropped on the floor, or maybe it was much larger, as in helping them through a difficult time. How did it make you feel?  How did it make them feel?  

Now think about a time when someone truly helped you.  Maybe it was a teacher who never gave up on you, or when someone helped you meet a deadline you weren’t sure you could meet on your own.  Maybe it was something smaller.  Same questions as before- how did it make you feel to receive it?  How do you think it made them feel to offer it? That was compassion in action."

Compassion: What It Is and What It's Not

When we’re teaching compassion in schools, I will often ask the question of whether it's easy to do or not.  Younger generations are eager to say that it is and older generations respond with sager wisdom.  And I have to agree with the older students.  It is hard. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of the work.  And sometimes, when we know we can show compassion to others, it can help us show compassion to and for ourselves.

Google defines compassion as “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.”  So, in those moments, it was about recognizing how it must feel to be in their shoes and then choosing to be kind.  

But there is something compassion is not- and it’s right in the definition! Pity.  The definition of pity according to google is “the feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortunes of others.”  I find it interesting that the words pity and compassion are within each other’s definitions, thereby saying they are somehow the same.

I don’t believe that to be true. Maybe this is a Midwest saying, but the saying “Don’t pity me” comes to mind.  If pity and compassion are the same thing, then we’ve been looking at compassion all wrong. 

After another quick google search, I found the following answer from Dana Luha on when they posed the question of what this saying means:

“...If you don't want someone to pity you, you're basically saying that you've had bad things happen to you and in your life, and whether you deserved them or not, you don't want others to see you as weak, but rather humbled and strong from your experience because without it, you wouldn't be here today to push others to keep going who are experiencing something similar.

When someone doesn't want pity, it's because they know that failures, hardships, and misfortunes are what build character.”

This highlights the importance of showing compassion to others while also understanding the reasons behind our actions. The distinction between compassion and pity lies in our motivation: we help not out of guilt or sadness, but out of a genuine desire to see the other person succeed.

Think back to the situation or event from earlier.  Can you think of the motivation behind your choice?  If you could go back in time, would you change the way you showed compassion?  Thinking back to the time someone showed compassion to you.  Does it change your perspective on their actions?

5 Ways to Practice Compassion Towards Others

Take a moment to consider the following ways many of us show compassion for others, and then consider if you give yourself the same grace and permission.

1. Metta Mindfulness

One of our favorite mindfulness tools that we practice and teach all ages is metta mindfulness, often referred to as loving-kindness meditation. It is a practice rooted in ancient Buddhist traditions and involves fostering a sense of connectedness, empathy, and compassion.

The practice typically begins with the self, acknowledging that to offer love and kindness to others, one must first be filled with these qualities. Participants are encouraged to silently repeat phrases like "May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be safe, may I live with ease," focusing on the genuine desire for their own well-being. Gradually, this circle of kindness is widened to include loved ones, friends, neutral individuals, and even those with whom one has conflicts, extending finally to all living beings. This progression helps in breaking down the barriers of resentment, anger, and indifference, opening the heart to a more inclusive love.

2. Forgiveness

This is a form of compassion that many people struggle with every day.  It is so difficult to treat others with kindness- especially in the face of unkindness.  It is a choice of intention and one that I know I fail at as much as the next person.  But the moments following forgiveness can be equally healing, pleasant, and allow for change for all involved.

3. Helping Others in Times of Trouble

Wanting people to succeed or even just be cared for in their time of need, is a way many people remind each other of how much they mean to each other.  It can be a reminder that while the path is treacherous, it does not have to be walked alone.  However, many could also view this as pity.  Make sure the person you are helping knows the compassionate intention.

4. Parenting and Pet Rearing

While these two are vastly different, I think they can be similar as well.  Between messes being cleaned, property being damaged, orders not being listened to or even straying away. In all of those cases and more, when it comes to raising a child or even rearing a pet, compassion is a constant need.  It’s not easy to “keep your cool” all the time, and, if you have either of these experiences, you are probably thinking about a time where you could have done better.

5. Grace

That leads me to the last example.  Grace.  Grace can be like forgiveness, but it does not apply to all cases.  When we give someone grace, we are trying to understand their intentions.  This can be a moment as small as someone calling you the wrong name, or a much larger one.  Many of us have responded to this by saying “It’s ok” and moving on.

Whether you find it easier to show compassion to others or to yourself, I hope you take a moment to consider how often you allow for both.  Compassion is a gift.  It is something freely given in small and large ways to other people, and if others are allowed, perhaps we are as well.

Thank you for reading.


P.S. Did you know that we have readymade Kids Yoga and Mindfulness Lesson Plans on Teachers Pay Teachers?

Yoga + Mindfulness Lesson Plans combine yoga, mindfulness exercises and storytelling.  These lessons are designed to help your students connect their minds, bodies and hearts and teach valuable social-emotional skills.  

This lesson plan will include all the tools you will need to teach an interactive 60-minute yoga class. 

Help your students practice and understand:

- the 5 love languages

- compassion

- kindness and empathy

- self-care

- flexibility

- mindfulness


Included in THIS resource…

Each lesson will include:

  • list of materials needed

  • the seven parts of the lesson guide explaining the details of each section taught

  • the print out worksheet of the three mudras used and information about each mudra

  • the breath deck card (front & back), including the illustrated picture from the card and detailed information on the breath practice being utilized

  • links to the sun salutation yoga flow and to sa-ta-na-ma (close of practice)

  • access to the meditation or what we call the Yoga Nap that will help to reiterate the theme of each lesson

  • a creative expression activity (often an art project) that incorporates the theme of each mindfulness lesson

  • a worksheet of yoga poses used in the lesson



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