If I had to choose only one of Christ’s attributes to describe him (which of course is nearly an impossible task) I would choose compassionate. The word literally means “to suffer with”, and isn’t that exactly what his atonement did? He suffered the pain we would feel for all of our sins, bore our grief and sorrow, and gave his life so we could live again. If anyone can be described as compassionate, it’s our Savior. The hymn “Lord, I will Follow Thee” is a musical pledge to follow Christ’s example and live a life filled with compassion.
Savior, may I learn to love thee,
Walk the path that thou has shown
Pause to help and lift another,
Finding strength beyond my own,
Savior, may I learn to love thee,
Lord, I would follow thee.
So then the question I want to ask, is how can we do this, right now, today? What are some little behavior modifications I can make that will dramatically alter my long term course? Being compassionate to everyone is a lovely sentiment, but I’m looking for some concrete examples of things we can do daily that will make all of us a Christlike people. I’ve put together a few personal examples of things that have helped me and I try to practice. These are small simple tasks that don’t take up a lot of time or energy, they simply require minor adjustments while offering net positive results.
1. Listen actively to someone who’s opinion you don’t share.
The easiest place to find opportunities for this is online. Now, please don’t confuse this for the suggestion that you should read all of the trolling comments on posts from your favorite political group. That will probably fill you with a deep (and possibly justified) concern for the welfare of humanity. No, I am suggesting taking what a person has to say, even if it’s poorly thought out, or completely filled with illogical fallacies, or horribly misspelled, and seeing the person behind it. Behind every profile picture is a human being with family, friends, heartache, and trials. They deserve to be treated with respect because by doing so we elevate humanity as a whole. Active listening means that we don’t focus on building a rebuttal while someone is talking. It also doesn’t mean that we have to accept what they say as fact, or agree, but it does imply civility and common decency. Name calling is of course, also out of the question. Active listening also includes asking questions for clarification, considering the emotional status of the other person, and attempting to empathize when possible. Compassion is about putting yourself in the place of the other person, finding what you can agree on and then using that to build relationships, instead of looking for weakness to expoilt. Generally I would say that most arguments (online or in person) stem for lack of actively listening to understand, finding empathy, or a desire to be right at all costs.
For example, I have a friend who’s politics and mine are virtually the opposite. Discussions with him are competitive at times, but I think that has a lot to do with our personalities. However, I have never felt anything less then respect for this person and from this person in return. He’s a great example of an active listener because he asks questions, seeks to understand differences of opinion, and even has invited Caleb and I over on occasion. Our discussions aren’t about “winning” but understanding. Most of all he has been a great example of faith in my life. Because of our friendship I have learned and been humbled; none of which could have happened if we both had labeled the other person and written each other off.
2. Assume good intent in those that offend you.
Often when others hurt us it’s an accidental or thoughtless act. All too often taking offense says way more about us, then it does the offender. I suggest when someone says something offensive you ask yourself a few basic questions:
- Why do I find this upsetting?
- What about their comment/action was hurtful?
- Could I be projecting my insecurities/fears/pain/etc into this situation when it wasn’t intended?
- Is it possible that the offender could have meant no harm?
- Maybe the offender doesn’t recognize their action/statement as offensive?
Sadly though, you can go through these questions and after honest deliberation come out realizing that the intent was malicious. This is when forgiveness is so important. By recognizing that this person’s bad actions warrants patients and mercy over reciprocated aggression we break a hateful cycle before it begins, and free ourselves from the damaging affects of harboring bad feelings. Forgiveness is the aloe vera for the sunburned soul. And while the offender may not deserve our forgiveness, we owe it to yourselves to avoid the lasting damage it will cause.
3. Make doing what’s right more important than being right.
This is the motto I try to live by and it has brought me great peace. Doing what’s right means you don’t care about who wins the fight, (heck you just don’t want to fight!) It means that you want unity and you are willing to sacrifice pride to achieve it.
In the conference address “Beware of Pride” Ezra Taft Benson had this to say on the matter:
We can choose to humble ourselves by conquering enmity toward our brothers and sisters, esteeming them as ourselves, and lifting them as high or higher than we are. (See D&C 38:24; D&C 81:5; D&C 84:106.)We can choose to humble ourselves by receiving counsel and chastisement. (See Jacob 4:10; Hel. 15:3;D&C 63:55; D&C 101:4–5; D&C 108:1; D&C 124:61, 84;D&C 136:31; Prov. 9:8.)We can choose to humble ourselves by forgiving those who have offended us. (See 3 Ne. 13:11, 14; D&C 64:10.)We can choose to humble ourselves by rendering selfless service. (See Mosiah 2:16–17.)…Let us choose to be humble. We can do it. I know we can. My dear brethren and sisters, we must prepare to redeem Zion. It was essentially the sin of pride that kept us from establishing Zion in the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It was the same sin of pride that brought consecration to an end among the Nephites. (See 4 Ne. 1:24–25.) Pride is the great stumbling block to Zion. I repeat: Pride is the great stumbling block to Zion.We must cleanse the inner vessel by conquering pride. (See Alma 6:2–4; Matt. 23:25–26.)
And conquering pride can be as simple as questioning our motivations. When we desire to become like Christ is means that we truly want to put God’s will above our own. It means we are willing to give up our sins to know Him. (Alma 22:18) And wouldn’t you agree that is such a small price to pay?
I want to leave you with the words of Thomas S. Monson on this matter:
“Charity is having patience with someone who has let us down. It is resisting the impulse to become offended easily. It is accepting weakness and shortcomings. It is accepting people as they truly are. It is looking beyond physical appearances to attributes that will not dim through time. It is resisting the impulse to categorize others.”
I hope that tomorrow morning I will rise from my bed and find that I am a more compassionate person because of the things I did today, I also hope that this pattern is one that I can follow as I strive to learn to love the Savior more fully.