15 ways to practice compassion today

August 19th, 2015

Marc-Dombrosky1I hear quite a bit about compassion, that brand of selfless love we usually judge ourselves to be lacking. Talking about compassion may be one reason it is so frequently misunderstood as something that we should be doing. But compassion doesn’t need doing. It exists already in the harmony of things just as they are.

Discord comes from our doing — when we impose our judgment, expectations, fear and greed. Compassion comes from undoing. Compassion greets us when we undo our boundaries and erase the lines we said we’d never cross. Compassion waits in the space between us, the space that only seems to separate us: a gap we close when we cease all self-serving judgment and take care of whatever appears in front of us.

We don’t have to go anywhere else to find compassion. Not to the Himalayas or even a meditation retreat (although the latter is probably cheaper and easier on the feet.) We don’t have to sit at the foot of a guru or stand on our heads. We won’t find compassion in a book, a blog, a TED talk, a sermon or an inspirational quotation. People who argue the need “teach” compassion usually mean their own idea of compassion.

Right in front of you, every moment of every day, is the only place to practice compassion. Do you want to live in friendship or fear? Paradise or paranoia? We are each citizens of the place we make, so make it a better place. Here are 15 ways to practice compassion today. You don’t have to do 15. Just do one as an experiment so you will recognize the source of compassion within you. You’ll feel good, and then you’ll share that goodness more easily and more often.

1. At the grocery store, give your place in line to the person behind you.

2. Ask the checker how her day is going, and mean it.

3. On the way out, give your pocket money to the solicitor at the card table no matter what the cause.

4. Admire children and praise pets, especially bothersome ones.

5. Roll down your car window when you see the homeless man on the corner with the sign. Give him money. Have no concern over what he will do with it.

6. Smile at him. It will be the first smile he has seen in a very long time.

7. Do not curse your neighbor’s tall grass, foul temperament or house color. Given time, things change by themselves. Even your annoyance.

8. Thank the garbageman. Be patient with the postal worker.

9. Leave the empty parking space for someone else to take. They will feel lucky.

10. Buy cookies from the Girl Scout and a sack of oranges from the poor woman standing in the broiling heat at the intersection.

11. Talk to strangers about the weather.

12. Allow others to be themselves, with their own point of view. If you judge them, you are in error.

13. Do not let difference make a difference.

14. Do not despair over the futility of your impact or question the outcome.

15. Love the world you walk, ride and drive around in, and make it your home. It’s the only world you’ll ever live in, and you have all the love in it.

Leave aside the extraordinary lengths and heroic measures. There’s an eyeful of suffering right in front of your face. Often, people look frightened and lonely. They seem bothered, hurt and terrifically sad. Kindness doesn’t cure everything, but it cures unkindness. What a magnificent place to start.


Hand embroidery and found cardboard sign by Marc Dombrosky.


  1. Thank you for these, Karen. My favorite thing to do is call a sales clerk by their name when I thank them (if they are wearing a name tag). If I watch closely, I can almost always see a look of pleasure or surprise cross their face.

    Comment by Gretchen Staebler — January 27, 2015 @ 1:17 pm

  2. I’ll never get over the delight, in the voice of a Customer Service Representative after I say “Thank You” on the phone or in person.

    Comment by Scott P. Wajda — January 27, 2015 @ 10:17 pm

  3. Yours are the only lists I ever read. How I love this one. Especially the simple truth you offer: “Kindness doesn’t cure everything, but it cures unkindness.”

    Comment by Katrina Kenison — January 28, 2015 @ 3:40 pm

  4. I do love my world, and my life and my grocery clerk and mail lady. They know it and reflect it right back at me. This is what makes my daily life a really good one.

    I don’t think that compassion can be taught or learned by traveling to far flung places or going on retreat, but there are many, many things to be gained by expanding one’s horizons in a literal sense. Quit knocking the Himalayas, Maezen. They don’t deserve it. 😉

    Comment by Clare — January 28, 2015 @ 4:12 pm

  5. Los Angeles can seem like Mount Everest too!

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — January 28, 2015 @ 5:58 pm

  6. Re #s 5 and 6…I passed a man at an intersection the other day (I was in the lane way from him) and instead of the usual signs of “homeless” or “need food”, or a job, his sign read “Be happy” and he was receiving from almost everyone in that lane!

    Comment by Joanie — January 28, 2015 @ 5:33 pm

  7. A guarantee: everyone who gave was made instantly happier. That’s the secret to happiness.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — January 28, 2015 @ 5:57 pm

  8. Yesterday I was watching a video and the lady in it said that she suddenly understood, that there is a difference between “to be compassionate” and expressing compassion. And I thought it was so interesting, because the first one is like a light that you switch on and off or a role you take on, and the second one is just something that flows through you and is natural to your being you just open up to it.
    Have a wonderful weekend.

    Comment by Simone — February 6, 2015 @ 4:02 pm

  9. Thank you for these tips. So helpful, so practical. I will be away in California while you are here in CT. I would love to hear more of such kind wisdom.

    Comment by Kathy — February 11, 2015 @ 4:32 pm

  10. Thank you for a thoughtful expression of compassion. I find the challenge lies more in being compassionate when patience or ability to understand are tested, than in taking the unprompted initiative to be kind. When kids test your patience, when someone expresses an ideologically biased account of events, when you are told ‘no’ for no apparent valid reason, then our ability for compassion really matters. Peace.

    Comment by Beginner — February 19, 2015 @ 10:07 am

  11. […] 15 Ways to Practice Compassion Today […]

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  12. The compassion I need the most is for myself and it is the hardest for me to offer. Why?

    Comment by MJ — August 20, 2015 @ 5:49 am

  13. #15 says it all.
    Thank you!

    Comment by Mary Sherman — August 20, 2015 @ 6:08 am

  14. Thank you.

    Comment by Arti — August 21, 2015 @ 8:30 am

  15. […] compassion // Karen is right on with this list of ways to be more compassionate. […]

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