Compassion is the ability to feel concern when we encounter pain and suffering, our own as well as that of others. It is accompanied by the wish to alleviate this pain and suffering, and the willingness to take responsibility for how we deal with it.
Whereas pity is accompanied by fear and sentimentality, compassion requires courage and generosity. Compassion does not exclude anyone, especially not the person we have to deal with most in our lives… ourselves. There are good reasons to even begin the practice of compassion with ourselves. If we would skip ourselves all the time, it would be difficult to sense what others need.
Practising self-compassion is therefore not selfish. Precisely because we develop a healthier relationship with ourselves, the way opens towards more empathy and compassion for others. When we truly meet our own sorrow we catch the thread of all sorrows and see the size of the cloth, as expressed beautifully in the poem cited below. Compassionate living is based on this realization of our common humanity.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.