The word “compassion” seems to have been hijacked in the last few years, and used to manipulate the public to support a most uncompassionate agenda. It’s become clear to me that we cannot progress in our world, cannot protect the natural environment that sustains us, cannot evolve as human beings, if we don’t redefine and embrace the true spirit of compassion. Thus, I decided it was time to revisit the meaning of the word compassion, and reclaim it for myself and my life. I have also been revisiting the definitions of other words, rediscovering their meaning – among these words are freedom (to do what, at what cost to others’ freedom?), pride (as opposed to luck, or privilege, and claimed as a result of what personal achievements?), patriotic (how do I support my country and conscience at the same time), plus labels like ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ – who are they, and what do they stand for? Words are very powerful. They incite action and affect attitudes. They can heal or injure. It’s most important that we use them responsibly, and honor their true meaning. Thus, I bring you…

Reclaiming “Compassion”

By Sharon Abreu

First, let’s revisit the dictionary definition. According to the New College Edition of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, “Compassion” is defined as:

The deep feeling of sharing the suffering of another in the inclination to give aid or support, or

to show mercy. It is synonymous with “pity”, and stems from the Late Latin word “compassio” meaning to sympathize with.

“Compassionate” is defined as:

Feeling or showing pity or compassion; sympathetic. It is synonymous with “kind”.

Then, the process of reclaiming…

Compassion .

Co – cooperation, together.

Com – common, commitment, companionship, what we all share.

Pass – pass over our hatred and fear, without letting our better selves pass us by, so that we are free to seek truth from each other and ourselves.

Compass – the tool with which we navigate stormy waters or dense forest to find our way home.

Passion – the common beating of our hearts, that which pushes us out of our comfort zone for the greater good, moves us to speak, sing, share, bond, and create.

Compassion – the resonating commonality of all mankind and all that lives on Earth with us. Compassion is the lens through which we see and feel others’ pain and treat others as we want

to be treated. Compassion is deep listening and forgiveness. It is not learned by rote; it is deeply felt. Compassion is what we hope will be bestowed on us when we are suffering or in need.

Although “compassion” is a noun and “compassionate” is an adjective, both words are active.

As mere words, mere sounds, they are nothing. They must be proven through actions, which as the saying goes, speak louder than words.

Thus, we reclaim the word “compassionate” and resuscitate its meaning, healing the wound in

our deepest collective heart.

A Dozen Ways to Identify Compassionate Hearts

1. Compassionate hearts have eyes that can see into the deep roots of complex problems,

and understand the need to envision and practice long-term solutions.

2. Compassionate hearts see value in the long term.

3. Compassionate hearts seek peaceful solutions and protect all innocents.

4. Compassionate hearts tell the truth.

5. Compassionate hearts are not afraid to admit mistakes, because they understand compassion allows for mistakes.

6. Compassionate hearts share all resources and do not take what is not theirs to take.

7. Compassionate hearts don’t use more than their fair share.

8. Compassionate hearts value people over profits.

9. Compassionate hearts act for the health and good of all people.

10. Compassionate hearts keep the important promises they make.

11. Compassionate hearts listen to important information and act accordingly in the best interests of those they are charged with protecting.

12. Compassionate hearts beat in sync with all other hearts, and the sound is unmistakably harmonious; it is at once passionate and peaceful.

What would compassion truly practiced in the U.S. look like?

* It could be a tear or a smile for a loved one or a stranger.

* It could be fair trade with other nations, which would reduce resentment against our country

and restore secure, well-paid jobs that have been outsourced by huge corporations.

* It could be a living wage for all who live in the U.S.

* It could be human rights, equal rights for every human.

* It could be the preservation and protection of the biodiversity that sustains our lives, our wildlife and wilderness, pristine natural treasures, our drinking water, air and food supply.

* It could be leading the world in reducing our use of fossil fuels and creating new jobs and technologies in sustainable renewable energy, and sharing those technologies with the developing world, based on our example.

* It could be nonprofit universal health care for every U.S. citizen, regardless of employment situation.

* It could be the end of violent conflict through peaceful means, teaching, learning & practicing nonviolent communication to resolve our conflicts, personally, domestically & internationally.

* It could be reducing our huge military budget enough to provide free, quality public education from pre-kindergarten through college to every U.S. citizen.

* It could be the educated, tender care for and guidance of all children and adolescents.

* It could be a truly free, responsible and objective media, adopting a new paradigm for what qualifies as “news”, encouraging a more discerning public.

* It could be respecting our system of elections enough to keep it fair and honest.

* It could be ending hunger and homelessness, at home in the richest country in the world, and around the world.

* It could be providing healthy, organic, non-gmo, locally grown food to all Americans at an affordable price for all.

I believe the majority of people in the U.S. want compassion, and a truly compassionate approach to life even in conflict, for ourselves and each other. We need to be firm in our commitment to the nurturing of true compassion in our culture.

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Sharon Abreu

Credit and Gratitude go to Eve Ensler and The Vagina Monologues for the ‘Reclaiming’ format.

(Ironically, I had already begun the process of reclaiming several words in the English language

by the time I had the privilege of learning and performing in TVM last June.) Please visit

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