What Does It Mean to Have Compassion?
December 13, 2017
If you judge people, you have no time to love them.
- Mother Teresa
The story of the Good Samaritan is a parable about humility. Jesus tells the story in response to a question he is asked about how we can love our neighbor. In the story, a traveler is stripped of his clothing, beaten, robbed and left for dead alongside the road of one of the roughest areas in town. First a priest comes by. Rather than helping the man, he crosses the street. Then a Levite (a political and religious leader) comes by, and he has the same reaction. Finally, the Good Samaritan arrives. His compassion leads him to come off his horse and tend to the man’s wounds. He puts him on his own horse and walks them to an inn where he takes care of the man and pays for his stay.
The Good Samaritan showed compassion in three ways. For one, he did not judge the man. Often times when people end up in tough situations, we judge them. We think or say things like, “if they listened to me they wouldn’t be in that situation”, or “they got themselves into it, and now they can get themselves out”. When we do this, we keep ourselves on our high horse, and refrain from bringing ourselves down to the level of others to tend to their wounds. Second, he paid for him. The Good Samaritan gave his time to tend to the man’s wounds, his money to pay for his stay, and his energy. How often are we “strapped for time”? In our haste, we fail to give people around us, the greatest gift we can give, our time and attention. Lastly, he listened. The story doesn’t explicitly say that they had a conversation, but I bet that once they got to the inn and the man awoke, a conversation ensued. Imagine the impact that was made on his life!
We have the opportunity to be a Good Samaritan daily; especially if you work with youth. Many youths have a knack for not listening and getting themselves into trouble. How do we respond? You can put yourself on their level, remembering what it was like to be a young person exploring the world the way you saw fit. You can share your experiences with them so that they realize that you too were once their age and found a way to overcome. We can tend to their wounds by giving them our time and attention: asking them what is wrong, supporting them, guiding them to other supports. Lastly, we can listen to them. Is there anything worse than not being heard? Probably not to a young person.
I’ve seen this formula for compassion in action. One time I was running a session at a school when I saw a student that was part of one of our previous programs at another school. We were happy to see each other, but the change in schools indicated that he was not doing well. I took him out to lunch to talk. We had a Caribbean meal at a restaurant down the street. It cost me no more than $7.00. We ate, sat and talked. After inhaling the food like it was his first meal and explaining how good it was, with eyes welled with tears of gratitude and he thanked me. He also told me that he was going to work much harder to do better for himself.
Compassion is gift, one that costs the giver. The currency is humility, time, attention, effort, and sometimes even money. The return on the investment is success for someone else.