In practice, it’s a lot harder. How do you understand the pain of others? If I see anything about you, it’s based on very limited information, just what you’ve shown me — and often, based on very limited interactions. So I have to project a story that I make up about you, and the truth is, it’s probably wrong. But sometimes that’s all we have to work with, and then gain more information once we’ve started to apply it.
I think that’s the only way to do it. For instance, here on Zen Habits, I constantly try to help people change habits, get out of debt, or realize that there’s awesomeness within themselves. But I start with me and show how I did it, then show how you can replicate it within your own lives.
If you have a large group of people — me trying to find compassion for all of you, for example — that can be very difficult. How do I find empathy with thousands of people? It’s almost impossible. So you see that applied compassion can become a complex thing. Much more easily applied on an individual basis.
I can also act in ways that I believe are compassionate to the people right in front of me, and you might think, “Isn’t that compassion for others?” But really, it’s compassion for myself in another form. It’s another self-compassion method.
Imagine the pain you feel when you see someone else suffering — the suffering you feel is real suffering, just as the other person is suffering. Yet, most people don’t actually ease that suffering in themselves. So, how do you ease that suffering in yourself when you see someone else suffering?
You reach out, empathize, make a connection, and look for a way to reduce the other person’s suffering, and your own. If the other person opens up, that’s great. If not, that’s OK, because you’ve reached out and let them know that you too suffer when you see them suffer. That’s a powerful thing.