If You Want to be Happy, Practice Compassion

Posted: Saturday, May 17, 2008 – 08:45:12 pm PDT

Email this story Printer friendly version By Harvey Mackay

A Native-American grandfather was talking to his grandson about how he felt.

He said, “I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one.”

The grandson asked him, “Which wolf will win the fight in your heart?”

The grandfather answered, “The one I feed.”

According to one definition, compassion is an emotion that is a sense of shared suffering, most often combined with a desire to alleviate the suffering of another and to show special kindness to them. Compassion essentially arises through empathy and is often characterized through actions wherein persons acting with compassion will seek to aid those they feel compassionate for. Compassionate acts are generally considered those that take into account the suffering of others and attempt to alleviate that suffering as if it were one’s own. In this sense, the various forms of the Golden Rule are clearly based on the concept of compassion.

Where, you might ask, does compassion fit in business? Will it hurt the bottom line? Will it make our company look soft, or like a pushover?

The answers are: at all levels, no, and definitely not. Compassion and profitability are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, companies that are perceived as people-oriented and good corporate citizens have a far better chance of succeeding than those that put profits ahead of people.

When I was interviewing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for my book, “We Got Fired! … And It’s the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Us,” the mayor told me that he never forgot the people who called him after he was fired by Salomon Brothers.

“I remember the exact list,” Bloomberg said. “If any of them ends up in trouble, I’ll call them. If you see them on the way up, you should see them on the way down. Whenever someone gets fired or has some real problems, I always call to tell them my thoughts are with them. And if I can be of any help whatsoever, please let me know.”

Bloomberg is right about being there at the darkest moments. I have always tried to call people when they were down or to do what I could to help them get back on their feet and succeed. I believe compassion should be a vital part of our character.

There is a big difference though between compassion and sympathy. Sympathy sees and says, “I’m sorry.” Compassion feels, and whispers, “I’ll help.” Compassionate people really care.

Some scientific studies suggest that there are physical benefits to practicing compassion. People who practice it produce 100 percent more DHEA, which is a hormone that counteracts the aging process, and 23 percent less cortisol — the “stress hormone.”

The main benefit is that it helps you to be happier and thus make others happier. Compassionate people are also more positive. That’s why you should practice compassion every day of your life.

Businesses that are committed to compassion care about their employees as well as their customers. The company makes sure that a paycheck isn’t the only thing workers take home — they also have a sense that they are working for a company that is committed to a good product at a fair price with excellent customer service. They know that when there’s an issue at work, there will be a fair and reasonable hearing. They know that their company is a good corporate citizen that is committed to giving back to the communities where they do business, providing opportunities for volunteerism, financial support, expertise and/or product.

The Dalai Lama said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

One of my closest friends, Lou Holtz, the legendary college-football coach and current ESPN analyst, always concludes conversations with this offer: “If there is anything I can do for you, let me know.” And he means it! What a great way to show that you care. Maybe that’s why he’s always so happy and positive.

Confucius said wisdom, compassion and courage are the three universally recognized moral qualities of a person. I’m not a big philosopher, but I couldn’t agree more.

Mackay’s Moral: Helping someone up won’t pull you down.

Harvey Mackay is the author of The New York Times’ No. 1 best-seller “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.” He can be reached through his Web site, http://www.harveymackay.com, by e-mailing harvey@mackay.com or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.


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