How to Make Compassion Contagious
Have you ever caught the bug? I’m not referring to something cool like the surfing bug or the rock climbing bug or the <insert trendy activity here> bug. I mean the flu bug. It’s the worst, right? A nasty stomach bug can spread quickly throughout families, schools, and communities. Bugs are relentless and uncontrollable, and they wreak havoc when they enter our lives.
Wouldn’t it be awesome if compassion could spread just as easily?
What if you “caught” compassion and were able to infect your community, state, nation, and the world? Instead of turning our lives upside down like a stomach bug, compassion would make us happier, healthier, and more connected to others.
A compassion contagion isn’t out of the question. Videos, products, and concepts go viral all the time, thanks to technology and social media. If planking, “The Evolution of Dance,” and “Gangnam Style” (which has had over 2.3 billion views) can catch on, so can compassion.
How can we make compassion contagious? Here are some ideas:
Harness the Power of Social Media
My 72-year-old mom knows what’s happening in my senior year prom date’s life, and that tells me something. Thanks to social media, we are connected … for better or for worse.
Let’s focus on the “for better” part and use our social media platforms for good. Many campaigns have created awareness and raised funds for important causes. A few examples include: #bringbackourgirls, #icebucketchallenge, and #movember.
You, too, can use your social media accounts to spread good in the world. Try some of these ideas:
- Write kind comments underneath your friends’ posts
- Cultivate compassion by posting a favorite quote, story, or video
- Share your personal stories of compassion. Your actions may inspire others.
- Re-tweet information about compassionate responses to tragedies like the recent Nepal earthquake. (If you’re looking for information about how to help certain disaster relief or humanitarian efforts, @gatesfoundation is a great resource).
There is enough depressing news out there in the world. Let’s do our part to add positivity to our friends’ news feeds.
Actions Speak Louder Than Tweets
While social media is an excellent tool for creating awareness and spreading ideas, nothing beats hands-on compassion. Incorporating compassionate actions into your everyday life creates a ripple effect that may impact many.
Take a moment and think about a time that someone offered compassion to you. Did that inspire you to do the same for others?
I’ll never forget the incredible kindness and compassion offered by my friend Tracy after my dad’s death 11 years ago. She was busy with her own life, to say the least. She had given birth to her first son the week of my dad’s tragic accident, yet she invited me over to talk, listen, and cry with me. Tracy lost her dad several years prior, and she felt tremendous empathy for me and offered her compassionate presence. I felt understood and loved, and that is exactly what I needed.
Because of Tracy, I have tried to offer the same compassion to friends who lose their loved ones. She inspired me.
Small acts of compassion can inspire others, too. When my neighbor texts me to alert me to a package on my doorstep, I seek out ways to be a good neighbor. When my girlfriends take time to listen to the ups and downs of my dating life, I want to lend my ear as a compassionate listener. When a car stops to let me cross at a crosswalk, I’m inspired to continue the kindness.
Your small actions influence those who receive your kindness and also influence those who witness your kindness.
Just Sit There
I once heard an interview with tennis superstar Martina Navratilova, and she spoke about how visualizations played an important role in her success. She would visualize playing tennis in driving rain, or against strong winds, and she would imagine the ball coming at her from various angles. In her mind, she would handle each ball with skill. Those visualizations prepared her for the real deal, and she dominated on the court.
Compassion meditations prepare us to be compassionate superstars. Using various visualizations, we can incline our minds toward compassion when we are faced with suffering. We can imagine opening our hearts to others and providing comfort and compassion instead of being overwhelmed by suffering.
We can also train our brains to see others as “just like me,” instead of allowing automatic stereotyping control our reactions. Compassion practices open our minds and hearts, and science now indicates that compassion makes us happier, healthier, and even more attractive. Check out this article by researcher Emma Seppala about the scientific benefits of lovingkindness meditation.
When you train your mind to view the world through a compassionate lens, you’ll inspire those around you to live with compassion.
Here’s a taste of what it’s like to meditate on compassion:
- Find a comfortable, upright position. Gently close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
- Return to your normal breathing pace and pay attention to your breath for a few minutes. This will help settle the mind. When you notice your mind wandering (which it will!), gently bring it back to the breath.
- After settling the mind, imagine a loved one standing in front of you. Pay attention to how your body feels when you are with him or her; try to focus on any warm or positive feelings.
- Imagine sending love, warmth, and light out of your heart to your loved one with each exhale. Saying in your own mind to your loved one, “May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you live with ease.”
- Now imagine seeing yourself next to your loved one. Direct the warmth, light, and love from your heart to that version of you, silently saying, “May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you live with ease.”
- Extend love, light, and warmth with each exhale, imagine sending it to the members of your community, state, nation, continent, and finally to everyone in the world. Saying silently to each group, “May we all be happy. May we all be peaceful. May we all live with ease.”
Sometimes a visual reminder helps keep our compassionate intentions front-of-mind. A post-it on a computer screen, an app with alerts, or a wristband can help.
The mission of my nonprofit organization, COMPASSION IT, is to inspire daily compassionate actions and attitudes. We created a simple tool that helps us spread compassion. A reversible black-and-white wristband reminds us to act with compassion every day. Start the day with one color facing out and flip it over when you ‘compassion it.’
The simple flip of a wristband creates compassionate actions and attitudes, and it’s also a conversation piece. Friends, acquaintances, and total strangers ask about the meaning of my COMPASSION IT wristband. Their curiosity often prompts meaningful conversations about the power of compassion.
Affirm the Charter for Compassion
A recipient of the TED Prize in 2009, highly regarded scholar, and bestselling author Karen Armstrong created The Charter for Compassion. The charter aims to unite everyone in the world under the value of compassion. More than 100,000 people around the world have signed the charter, including Richard Branson, the Dalai Lama, Sir Ken Robinson, and others. Learn more and sign the charter here: www.charterforcompassion.org.
Once you sign the charter, you can inspire others to sign it by sharing it through social media.
Sometimes our society and world will attempt to inoculate us against compassion, but compassion is the ultimate superbug. Let’s all catch the compassion bug and infect our fellow global citizens. The byproduct of viral compassion is peace, and our world needs it now more than ever.