Last summer, Dennis, my brother (Glenn), and I spent four days in New York City. We had such a good time that Dennis and I decided to spend another four days in NYC last month and visit some places we didn’t get to see last year.
Of course, we loved visiting iconic buildings and famous sites in the city! But what impressed us the most – and made our trips truly enjoyable – was the compassion that New Yorkers showed to us.
Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Brené Brown.
Compassion Changes Stereotypical Thinking
I have to admit that I was surprised by the compassion that I received from New Yorkers on both trips. I had expected New Yorkers to be rushed – even a bit curt and impatient at times. Instead, I witnessed so much compassion! They went out of their way to be kind and helpful to us at our hotel, in shops, at restaurants, and at busy subway stops and street corners.
Even Glenn, a lifetime resident of the Deep South (known for its gracious hospitality), made a startling comment last summer: “These people in New York City are nicer than where I live!”
Compassion sure goes a long way in changing negative perceptions and stereotypical thinking. Most importantly, it helps us connect to others. As Brené Brown wrote, our connection to a power greater than all of us “is grounded in love and compassion.”
In NYC, we didn’t feel that lonely feeling of not being connected. We felt connected. And the glue was compassion.
Small Acts of Compassion
I’d like to highlight a couple of small acts of compassion that we experienced on our most recent NYC trip. I was in a crowded area of a subway station during 5:00 pm rush hour. I stopped to tell Dennis that I didn’t think I had enough balance on my MetroCard to get on the subway. A young guy next to us overheard our conversation and said, “Mam, let me help you.” He quickly took us over to a scanner that read the balance on the card. I was good to go!
This young man didn’t have to take the time to help us. In fact, he almost missed his train. When I thanked him, he just smiled and said, “Have a good time in New York!” I commented on how helpful New Yorkers were. He replied, “We love tourists. We want you to come back! If you come back, it helps our economy and that’s good for us, too.”
Another act of compassion happened just the following morning. Though I increased the balance on my MetroCard before trying to take the subway, the turnstile reader rejected my card four times in a row. I didn’t have time to purchase a new card because we were running late.
I didn’t know what to do. A woman in front of me had already gone through the turnstile. She suddenly turned around and said, “Here, take these.” She handed me two MetroCards, each good for two trips on the subway.
Before I even had time to thank this nice woman, she rushed off to board her train. Wow – what a lovely act of compassion!
Compassion is Contagious
Much to my surprise, I noticed that this NYC compassion started rubbing off on me! On the last day of our trip last month, we got off the New Jersey Transit in Secaucus to catch a taxi to our hotel. We commented to the aging driver that there were a lot of taxis lined up outside the train station. He said that he had waited for almost an hour to be first in line. I felt almost guilty that he had such a long wait, just to make $ 8.00 for taking us to our hotel!
We asked our driver how Uber had affected the taxi business in Secaucus. He explained that his boss’s taxi fleet was greatly reduced and that he, himself, was making a fraction of the amount he used to make. He said he had to work two jobs now to make ends meet. Interestingly, he had tried being an Uber driver for a short while – but made even less than he made driving a taxi!
The taxi driver seemed stressed and distracted, and we weren’t very comfortable with his driving. We were relieved when we arrived safely at our hotel. But when we stepped out of the taxi, the sliding side door on the van jammed. The frustrated driver grumbled that his boss had told him that he had fixed the door. I watched him struggle to shut the sliding door.
Part of me wanted to let the taxi driver deal with the door all by himself. But, instead, I hung around until he finally got the door back on track. I also tipped the driver a couple more bucks. It just seemed the right thing to do.
By that time, I think that NYC compassion had become contagious. Time for me to give some back!
Compassion Enhances Personal Well-Being
Here’s the great thing about compassion: the more you allow yourself to practice compassion, the better you feel. In fact, “compassion research” shows that practicing compassion enhances personal well-being:
- Compassion makes us more attractive to potential mates.
- All across the world, giving makes people happier than receiving, regardless of their levels of income and social support.
- People who are focused on altruism and compassion have lower cellular inflammation levels, resulting in healthier immune systems and greater resistance to cancer and other diseases.
- A compassionate lifestyle buffers stress and may improve longevity.
- Living a life of compassion broadens perspective beyond ourselves, thereby lowering levels of depression and anxiety.
- Compassion increases our sense of connection to others. One study showed that a lack of social connections is a higher risk to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure.
Mindfulness Builds Compassion
The best way I know to build more compassion into your life is to become more mindful. Basically, that means being tuned in to what is happening around you and to what others are doing, feeling, and saying – just being present in the moment!
But building compassion doesn’t just happen automatically. Like other habits, it takes time and practice. It’s a cumulative re-wiring of the brain.
Personally, I know that I am more compassionate than I was a few years ago. I credit this mostly to starting a daily mindfulness practice. I’ve noticed that it’s easier now to let go of worries and to be kinder and gentler to myself and others. I am also less prone to getting angry!
My “pre-mindfulness” headset often defaulted to being too critical and judgmental. Mindfulness has heightened my awareness of my old default headset and helps me let go of critical thoughts and judgments when they arise. It helps me to be in the moment.
Do You Want to Build Your Compassion?
Maybe I experienced more compassion in NYC than I thought I would because I was ready to both receive and give compassion. After all, readiness is a prerequisite for almost everything that the universe offers us!
We encourage our coaching clients to develop a daily mindfulness/meditation practice. It can take as little as 3 – 5 minutes per day. Anyone who really wants to be more mindful, relaxed, grateful, and compassionate can find 3- 5 minutes per day for a mindfulness practice!
If you’re ready, contact us today, and we’ll help you incorporate mindfulness into a customized coaching program.
As usual, we welcome your comments (below). Has compassion helped you change negative perceptions and stereotypical thinking? Has your personal well-being improved due to being more compassionate? Do you feel that compassion is contagious?