Reality Check: The Value of Compassion

What does it mean to be compassionate? What differentiates a compassionate person from others?

Elsie values compassion; in her mind, it is simply the right way to be. She easily finds ways to treat strangers compassionately by giving of her time, her money, and her heart.

Where Elsie has a struggle with compassion, however, is within her own family. Her daughter, Lisa, has made life choices that Elsie can’t understand. As far as Elsie can tell, many of Lisa’s choices have brought her only negative consequences.

As a result, their relationship has become strained. Despite that, when Lisa asks for money, Elsie scrapes it up. When Lisa’s relationships break up, Elsie welcomes her back.

Now Lisa has called mom and wants to move home again, just long enough to get back on her feet.

Elsie wants to be compassionate; however, she feels frustration. Lisa is wasting her life away; why can’t she get it together? And, if she continues to rescue Lisa, will Lisa continue to make poor choices?

Dr. Glasser suggests that people make choices that seem—from their perspective—to be the right thing to do at the time. To the outside observer, however, those choices can be mind-boggling.

In a rare moment of honest discussion, Lisa confessed, “I feel like I don’t have any say in my life. Somebody else is always in charge, jerking me around like a puppet on a string.”

Elsie is dumbfounded. Clearly Lisa doesn’t see herself as Elsie sees her—beautiful, smart, and full of potential.

Folks who want to make a change but who continue to make ineffective choices may benefit from information. What information? Some understanding of choice theory could show Lisa that it’s possible to gain more effective control over her life.

For example, we have five basic needs: security/survival, love/belonging, power, freedom, and fun. We make choices to try to satisfy those needs.

So Lisa’s poor relationship decisions may have been, in her mind, the best way to satisfy her need for security. To Lisa, even a lousy relationship may offer her more security than no relationship.

Yet, Lisa’s experience with failed relationships has demonstrated that this hasn’t worked well for her. Instead of feeling secure, she felt controlled.

What is the compassionate response for Elsie? Dr. Glasser says, “True compassion is helping people help themselves.”

Elsie could ask Lisa, “Do you want your life to be different?” If Lisa says yes, then Elsie has a starting point to compassionately offer some information.

It could be eye-opening for Lisa to realize that she can satisfy her need for security in a different way—by supporting herself! Granted, it may involve short-term pain but offer longer term gain. Which is better?

If Lisa starts consciously weighing her options and making more effective choices, she’ll gain more effective control over her life. Ultimately, that leads to a more satisfied life.

So, is the compassionate choice for Elsie to welcome Lisa home again? Maybe; maybe not. Either way Elsie decides, one compassionate act will be to help Lisa get information so she can make more effective choices for herself. What do you think?

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