I recently made a move to a different part of the country, and my friends from back home made my last few days really nice. One day a few of us got together and went to buy some good bad Chinese food and some good bad beer. It was a very collegiate night, but with my hometown friends.
On our way out of a grocery store where we’d bought a couple things, there was a man in the next line over. He seemed to be arguing with the cashier over the total of his purchases. When we passed, the cashier was talking to her manager and I overheard her say “He’s 10 cents short on his total.” I had a little change in my pocket, but by the time I had processed what the cashier had said, we were pretty much out the door, so I didn’t turn back to help him.
It has been months since that happened, and I still find myself thinking about it sometimes. Why didn’t I just help him? It would have been so easy, cost me basically nothing, and spared him the awkwardness of having to put back an item. The small potential for an uncomfortable interaction or the chance that I might be misunderstanding the situation was enough to dissuade me from helping him.
I’m sure we’ve all experienced something like this. Nearly every day we have the chance to show some small compassion to another human being. Surely, many of these chances are ones we pass up. We either don’t think anything of it, or perhaps we make up some excuse in our head to make ourselves feel better.
Oh he was just going to use that money to buy alcohol or She’s fine, she’d probably be embarrassed if I tried to help her
One of the simplest things we can do in our lives to actively become more compassionate is train away this reflex. Next time you see a chance to talk to someone who looks lonely or lost or afraid, next time you can throw a few coins in a homeless man’s cup, or next time someone asks for help with their psychology survey or voting for them in a contest on facebook or twitter, just do it.
I’m not saying you have to perform great acts of compassion and love. It’s just simple little things that can help us to develop our sense of a desire to be compassionate (some buddhists call this bodhicitta). When we begin to show compassion for others, we begin to see them as more human. We realize that all people and all living things are worthy of our compassion because they aren’t very different than us, and because we have the ability to help them.
Especially when it is easy, make a habit of choosing love and compassion. Don’t worry so much about the small risk that comes of helping someone. Rather, think of the good you can do.