• Christy McCaffrey

Compassion In Action

If you said the words “compassion in action” to me 10 years ago I would not have any idea what that meant. But now, after 10 years of working closely with people who are living in pain, I can tell you that I know very well what it means to put compassion into action. And I have seen first hand the powerful results of this type of approach to the suffering of others.

“Any human being can do this for another simply by showing up and saying “I care about you, I care about what you are going through and I am here for you.”

When we have concern for someone or we have pity for them, that alone will not ease their suffering. If we instead can view their suffering in a way where we see ourselves in their shoes, truly allowing ourselves to imagine what this might FEEL like, we are then moved to genuinely connect with that person and we are moved to help them.

In the early years of filming our documentary projects for Project Scleroderma I came to understand the important difference between sympathy and empathy. As I would sit in the homes of the patients I was interviewing, people who were suffering at the hands of a relentless disease they had no control over, I would listen to their heart breaking stories and think to myself “how can I lessen this burden for them?”. I knew I couldn’t take away their suffering and I alone could not change this disease, but I wondered what could I do to help make this feel less heavy, less painful for them?

I realized early on that having pity for them was the absolute last thing they wanted or needed. Many patients in the scleroderma community refer to themselves as “warriors” and they carry themselves as such. They are strong, brave and incredibly resilient people who are trying their hardest to still live life fully despite their circumstances.

But there is no denying the emotional toll that this type of fight has on them. In time I learned that being able to show up fully and listen to them completely was something they were in deep need of, and listening was something I could offer. I began to commit with each interview to be as present as I could be, to hold space for all the emotional pain they were releasing. I did my best to let them know that although I didn’t know first hand what their pain was like, I could imagine it, and that if I were in their shoes I would want to know that people cared about my suffering. This became the driving force behind everything I worked to accomplish going forward with Project Scleroderma. I wanted patients to know that we saw them, we heard them and that we wanted to do all we could to support them.

I began to focus heavily on the concept of “Compassion in Action”. I would often tell our film crew that our number one goal was to make sure that each person we interviewed felt how deeply we cared for them and soon that became our mode of operation. We acted first from a place of care, connection and love and this would inevitably produce the most genuine and incredibly life changing experience for all of us… our crew, the patients and their families as well.

I came to understand that this true and meaningful connection is what life is really about. Showing up for people when they need us most, even if they are complete strangers, that is one of the most powerful ways to put compassion into action. Because you are going beyond the pity and initial concern, you are going deeper into a compassionate and empathetic response and that is where true healing can occur, on a soul level.

Although we may not be able to heal all suffering and we may not be able to change the circumstances of those who suffer, we are able to give comfort by offering our time and a listening ear. By listening we are able to help those in pain to better manage the emotional toll of their suffering. Any human being can do this for another simply by showing up and saying “I care about you, I care about what you are going through and I am here for you.”

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