Compassion – Is it learned?
Are we born with compassion as a human trait or is it simply a learned act of kindness? The reality is, most people lack the ability to feel compassion for others, especially living in a world that is so full of hate, violence and death. We’re born into families who show us the way we should be in order to fit into society.
But along the line, where did we lose our sense of compassion?
When did it become normal to be unkind and unjust to one another? Our fast paced cultures have led us to become more self-absorbed and cruel in order to lead an easier, more comfortable life. But at what cost? The more we create easier ways to live and quicker means of getting things done, the more we create harmful, lasting damage to the environment and those around us. The world seems to be making more and more heartless decisions. Paul Gilbert’s book The Compassionate Mind explores this in great detail.
Gilbert (2009) stated that “compassion can be defined in many ways, but it’s essence is a basic kindness, with a deep awareness of the suffering of oneself and of other living things, coupled with the wish and effort to relieve it.” (p.xiii)
Compassion forms such an integral part in living a vegan lifestyle that I found this book to be very helpful in exploring and building on our ability to live more kindly.
How do we become more compassionate towards others?
As a reader you will understand the feeling of going to the library or book store to pick out a book at random. You sort of pick one or two out based on your mood, whatever catches your eye, and sometimes if you’re lucky you’ll be drawn to a book that applies to a current situation you’re struggling with or a topic that may be so dear to your heart.
The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert was recently that special book for me. I joined a nearby library, and happened to stumble upon it. It’s the type of book that brilliantly captivates you from the first page and makes you question life as you know it. The author, Paul Gilbert, has written in such a way that you feel connected and have an understanding of the dire need to create a more compassionate world.
There is nothing preachy about this book though, just creating an awareness of how our minds work and providing a means to train the mind to become more compassionate and to create a better future and way of living.
“There’s nothing easy in following a compassionate path, and at times it requires courage.” (p.xxi)
Choosing a life of compassion requires a level of courage so deep that it may create a turmoil of emotions and daily fights within yourself, questioning your sanity. This kind of courage sets you apart from the normality of society.
How we choose to live inevitably affects someone or something in order for us to live more comfortably and selfishly. This is where the big issue lies. What is not seen is not considered, and this leads to a lack awareness of the suffering of another living being. To be compassionate, one needs to be aware and take into account the way in which other living beings are affected by the decisions we make. I felt this so closely relates to veganism, everything that Gilbert speaks about in this book, makes you aware of how far we’ve shifted away from the belief that compassion serves or can serve us in anyway.
I found this book to be an extremely useful means to train the brain and to exercise the development of compassion not only towards yourself, but also to others. Especially because if we are unable to feel compassionate towards ourselves, we can’t expect to be capable of feeling the same for others.
We base our happiness on wants, and always wanting more. A new car, new TV, new phone, more clothes, more travels, more food, more luxury! How can we train ourselves to be more compassionate, when we are living in a world that feeds off the need to impress and be impressed by the materials of others. We would rather please ourselves, than consider the consequences of our pleasure.
Living an extremely competitive way of life, one that brings about stress and uncertainty; we are so rushed all the time that we don’t even have the time to consider that the burger we carelessly eat is and was a fully feeling, sentient being.
“We are so caught up in the drive for profits and efficiency that we are losing contact with each other and the things that nourish, support and nurture us through life.” (p.13)
The hustle and bustle of life and desire to create profit, has caused us to only have interest in obtaining wants and desires, and in doing so, losing our will for compassion. Viewing other humans as commodities and animals as profits.
I do believe that we are born with the ability to feel compassion for others, to not want others to suffer. A child’s first instinct is to love their human and animal companions. We are conditioned into a way of life that either goes along with society and its lack of compassion or we go against it in order to create a world that is willing and wanting to change. To view all beings as equal and worthy of and capable of feeling compassion.
So whether you’re vegan and questioning your own compassion, or considering veganism and want to live a more compassionate life then this book is for you. The Compassionate Mind is a real eye opener, an educated and educating book that is brutally honest and open and enhances our ability to think and live compassionately in order to create a better future for all. To enrich our own lives and to encourage our children and future generations to think in the same way. I highly recommend everything about this book.
*Paul Gilbert is a British Clinical Psychologist and the founder of Compassion focused therapy who has written many excellent books surrounding the mind and its ability to improve our quality of life simply by being more mindful and practicing compassion.
You can buy his book The Compassionate Mind on amazon