Every year, the itinerant photojournalism exhibition, World Press Photo, is presented in my city. Most years I go with a couple of friends.
Every time, I experience a mixture of discomfort, sadness, guilt, helplessness, and some other emotions and feelings that I can’t really explain.
I must admit, unsure if I should feel ashamed about it, that I don’t read or watch the news, and that I haven’t had a TV for the past 17 years. That is to say, I’m not very aware of all that’s happening in the world on a daily basis.
The World Press exhibition is, therefore, an opportunity to review the main events (mostly the tragic events) that shook our world the preceding year.
I can’t help, every time I attend, feeling somehow awkward looking at the misery of other human beings who live in other parts of the globe, from the comfort of a rather chic venue.
It feels surreal, distant, and cold.
How could we be comfortable standing there, looking at the pain and distress of those people—pain and distress that we can’t possibly understand?
At those times, we really wish we could save the world.
And the truth is: we can.
Everyone would like to live in a better—safer, happier, and more peaceful—world.
For some of us, it’s not enough to wish for a better world; we want to actively contribute to the change. We want to heal the harm that has been done and wipe the tears that are shed.
For some of us, it’s impossible to find meaning in our own lives if we don’t contribute to improving the lives of others.
Some contribute by building schools in impoverished countries, others donate money to support causes that are aligned with their values, while others volunteer in humanitarian projects.
But what if something much simpler could save the world?
We keep putting bandages on the wounds of the world when something very simple could prevent the harm from being caused in the first place.
Lasting improvement of the world’s situation requires an adjustment from the inside out—an adjustment that not everyone seems to be ready to make: changing ourselves.
In reality, the world could be saved with only one word:
“I believe all suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their happiness or satisfaction.
Yet true happiness comes from a sense of inner peace and contentment, which in turn must be achieved through the cultivation of altruism, of love and compassion and elimination of ignorance, selfishness and greed.”
― Dalai Lama XIV
Let me explain…
I used to think that compassion meant to share the pain and suffering of others, empathically. But something didn’t “feel right” about this understanding.
Yes, compassion means wanting to alleviate the suffering of others. But can we really comfort someone by being as sad as they are?
I don’t believe so.
As Abraham Lincoln said: “You can’t help the poor by being one of them.”
I believe a more accurate definition of compassion is one from Thomas Merton:
“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.”
Compassion is the keen awareness of the interconnection of all things.
Knowing that you and I, and your neighbor, and trees, and everything else, are interconnected, how could any of us want to cause harm to anything or anyone? By doing so, we would hurt ourselves.
If every single person could see and understand that we are all connected, there would be less war, greed, competition, and violence.
Compassion isn’t about sharing tears and suffering. It’s caring about the welfare of all beings as much as our own.
While we can’t change others, we can lead by example through developing our own capacity to be compassionate.
And that’s probably the most profound thing we can do to “save the world”.
Being more compassionate requires more than a mindset shift; it necessitates a shift in consciousness.
We must shift:
From being selfish to becoming (more) selfless.
From acting for personal gain to improving the welfare of others.
From needing to be special and superior to understanding that we are all equally important and valuable, regardless of the work we do, our income, the country we live in, and the people we know.
From needing to be always right to understanding others’ perspectives.
From judging others to accepting ideas that are different from our own.
From resenting to forgiving, by understanding that everyone always does the best they can with the resources they have—experience, knowledge, emotional and mental states, and overall level of consciousness.
From being competitive to being cooperative.
From being greedy to being generous.
From not caring about others to wanting to help them.
Finally, a good approach to a more compassionate lifestyle is to apply the Golden Rule:
Overall, compassion demands that we act and respond from a place of love, not fear, and that we do so even when others fail to show us compassion in return.
“Every single being, even those who are hostile to us, is just as afraid of suffering as we are, and seeks happiness in the same way we do.
Every person has the same right as we do to be happy and not to suffer. So let’s take care of others wholeheartedly, of both our friends and our enemies. This is the basis for true compassion.” ― Dalai Lama XIV
Compassion requires an open heart, deep humility, and a high degree of acceptance of others. It really does demand a shift in consciousness—a shift that’s mandatory if we want to “save the world”.
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” ― Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness