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3 Building Blocks of Compassion

"There are several practices, or strategies, that help us cultivate compassion," says Jan Hutton, a certified Compassionate Listening facilitator who works with the Compassionate Listening Project. "Together, they teach us to listen to the world with a different ear, to see the other person’s humanity and to respond in a different way."

1. Find peace in yourself

The first step is being compassionate with yourself. “I have to own my own vulnerability as a human being and use it as a bridge to someone else’s heart,” Jan explains. “I have to acknowledge my wounds, acknowledge my mistakes, acknowledge that I’m human, acknowledge that I have limits. And I have to be gentle with myself.” Don’tbeat yourself up or criticize yourself when you make mistakes or don’t live up to your own or others’ expectations. Instead, simply remind yourself that mistakes are something you share with every other human on the planet. It’s a bond that pulls all of us together.

2. Listen and reflect

Listen with your heart. When you talk with another person, quiet your mind, focus on the them, look for a deeper point of connection and practice reflective listening. When someone explains how they feel about something, Jan says, repeat it so they know you understand who they are, what they think and what they feel. Expect—and accept without judgment or comment—points of view that are widely divergent from your own. As the late Gene Knudsen Hoffman, founder of the Compassionate Listening Project, wrote: “We must listen with a spiritual ear,” not the ones we usually walk through the world with.

3. Question

Ask friends to tell you stories and then follow up with questions to encourage deeper thinking, such as “How has this situation affected your life?” “What was that like for you?” and “Can you tell me what life experience led you to feel this way?”

The approach works in three ways: First, it helps us better understand someone else’s life story. Second, it allows us to sense our shared humanity. And, third, it helps us practice maintaining an attitude of acceptance so we avoid judgments that are really results of our biases and fears.

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