I feel very lucky that my closest friends are interested in the same types of topics I am – intuition, empathy, creativity, meditation, service as a spiritual practice, spirit-based living, animals and nature as mentors.
These are the kinds of conversation starters I craved during my younger years but rarely heard….at least coming from anyone other than me.
Aging has been kind in this way, helping me understand that my peeps are out there and finding shared passions is a great way to i.d. them.
One of my dearest friends recently sent me a link to a free 10-day podcast series called “radical compassion.” Since I generally view all compassion as radical this title intrigued me.
Are some acts of compassion more radical than others? What is the difference between regular garden-variety compassion and the radical kind?
A quick browse online yielded this insight:
“Regular compassion” is an innate sensing of the state of others that we all have (at least in theory). As a social species, every homo sapiens apparently does have the basic wiring to sense when another is suffering and empathize and even the following desire to alleviate the other’s suffering.
This wiring is not just inside homo sapiens brains, by the way.
I recently blogged about new research demonstrating empathy and compassion in parrots, which was not a surprise to me but definitely seemed to surprise the researchers.
“Radical compassion,” in contrast, is going above and beyond regular compassion by undertaking acts of compassion under more challenging circumstances.
My favorite of all the podcast interviews I’ve listened to was – no surprise here – by author Elizabeth Gilbert. I just love her. (I mean, I’ve always loved her since I read Eat Pray Love, but in the wake of my own previous grief-filled year as I’ve navigated parting ways from my long-time love, her wisdom stemming from her own recent loss of her best friend and partner, Rayya, has helped me make some sense of the “keep on keeping on” nature of losing someone you love.)
My point being, at one moment in their hour-long podcast, host Tara Brach asks Liz about (and I paraphrase) how she deals with the onslaught of horrific local or world news that can make even the most empathic, compassionate and help-minded beings feel helpless and hopeless and sometimes flat-out numb to all the suffering.
Liz answered – again, no surprise here – brilliantly.
She shared that she has come up with a personal plan to identify those who are already out there helping, “boots on the ground” so to speak, and doing a fantastic, informed and effective job of helping those people. And then she just throws her energy behind their efforts.
Liz talked about wrestling with whether to launch her own charity and how she realized she didn’t need to reinvent the wheel by trying to do everything herself when so many fabulous charitable organizations already exist that have deep knowledge and expertise about how to help in their specific areas.
In the podcast interview, she called this strategy “helping those who are helping.”
I LOVE it.
She also shared that she felt lucky to have friends who are experts in helping suffering people, but after a moment of little green monster-hood on my part, I realized that probably we all do if we just take a look around.
Thanks to social media and the six (or 600) degrees of separation we share today, we are each likely only a click or few away from a really stellar individual or organization who is taking tangible, impactful action in areas we feel strongly about.
Here is an example from my own life.
As many of you know, I care deeply about animals and nature. One issue that is particularly personal to me is turtle and tortoise rescue. This is because one of my little interspecies trio, Bruce, is a rescued turtle. Bruce is a Texas 3-toed box turtle, a sub-species of the common or eastern box turtle, and from a population that used to be plentiful in his native range of Texas and the southeastern United States.
But now, thanks in large part (oh who are we kidding, in all parts) to my species, 3-toed box turtles are now listed as a species of special concern in some areas and endangered in other areas.
Our veterinary team tells me that even if it were possible to release Bruce back into the wild, which is not possible for reasons I’ve blogged about much more extensively in other posts here and elsewhere, he could potentially live out the whole rest of his 40+ year life span and never meet a lady 3-toed box turtle to make eggs with.
I can’t walk down my driveway without meeting another of my species. What must it be like – to be so rare?
So obviously I really really care about this issue. I also don’t have a lot of time and I don’t have a lot of money. But then again, I don’t have to. I can have a little time and a little money and send both towards people and organizations that are already out there helping, doing what they do expertly and efficiently, and they can maximize the little I can give and turn it into a lot.
I am already sending the majority of my time and funds towards saving one particular 3-toed box turtle named Bruce. So that is one thing I am doing.
I have also used social media to connect with several organizations dedicated to helping turtles and tortoises in the wild and in captive settings all over the world, such as the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA). I share about their work through my blogging and on my social media platforms.
I have a Turtle Survival Alliance magnet on my car and another one on my frig to remind me about my commitment. When I have some extra funds I can donate, guess where they go. When the TSA had a “drink beer save turtles” event near me, I went and bought lots of swag to support their work (“buy micro-brew beer save turtles” is a cause I can really get behind).
Most importantly, I was able to assist with rescuing another 3-toed box turtle here in my home state of Texas – a lady turtle this time. Her rescuer’s kids gave her the name “Alfie.”
When my herpetologist friend looked at Alfie’s pictures, she told me Alfie is probably at least 30 years old – an amazing survivor in the densely populated urban area where she was found wandering around a parking garage.
Helping to rescue Alfie was only possible because I had first committed to rescuing Bruce.
I learned, made mistakes, had to say “I’m sorry” to the bravest box turtle boy I know so many times, kept learning, kept trying, kept spending all my extra cash on box turtle habitat upgrades.
So then when Alfie came along I knew just enough to help a fellow box turtle rescuer through the first steps of getting this precious small one to safety.
These are all really little things. Truly, they are.
In the grand scheme of a world where some parts of the world are really starting to look like those big box Hollywood action flicks with over-the-top special effects, in areas where families are torn apart, where animals and nature are treated like commodities and individuals from my species who are in leadership roles seem uniquely ill-suited to their jobs, all of the things I just mentioned are really very little.
If they are acts of radical compassion, they are micro-acts coming from a gal with a great deal of first-world problems – and a white gal at that – and perhaps they all add up to very little in the grand scheme of things.
But to Bruce, to Alfie, to me, they are packed with meaning. They matter. I am not doing nothing.
I am doing the little somethings that resonate – the little asks that find me and tap on my shoulder and smile winningly and somehow convince me that if I do something small and my neighbor does something small and you reading this do something small and your neighbor does something small, it might just all add up to something really big and beautiful and be enough to heal this small round blue world we share together.
With great respect and love,