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Life / Personal

Use Compassion as a Compass

Use Compassion as a Compass

I would consider myself a fairly compassionate person.

I know, I know. Plenty of people claim this, but how many actually practice compassion day-to-day?

Well, before I go any further, it’s probably a good idea to make sure we’re all on the same page here:

Compassion (noun): A feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

With this definition in mind, I would say it’s easier for most people to feel deeply sympathetic towards friends and family members. After all, you’ve grown up with them and have invested time in order to create deeper connections.

But what about people you don’t know?

How many times have you walked by a homeless person on the way into Starbucks to grab your iced caramel macchiato only to divert your eyes when they ask for help?

Don’t get me wrong. I am passing zero judgement here. In fact, I have also responded with an awkward smile and a half-hearted, “Sorry, I’m in a rush.”

For some of you, homelessness may not be something you commonly encounter, or be front-of-mind. So instead, let’s look at another group of people who are often treated with indifference: people who work in food service and retail.

Here are two groups of strangers who often get treated with a lack of compassion, especially during busy periods like the holidays.

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to dismiss them as people who are only there to do their jobs. They tend to exist in a peripheral world until you need a refill or help finding a specific size. This way of thinking invites an overall lack of compassion, which usually leads to yelling and disrespect.

As someone who has worked both food service and retail in the past, I can tell you it was far too easy to be dismissed while simply trying to help others.

I just wonder, “Why is it so easy to dismiss those we don’t already know?”

Is it because we may never see them again? Does their well-being have no direct impact on ours? Do we “owe” them anything?

No matter your answers, I implore you to consider one thing:

Showing compassion and taking a genuine interest in others can help guide you closer to pursuing your own passion.

I know what you’re probably thinking: How the hell could giving a homeless person a few bucks or saying “thank you” to a server bring your closer to finding your life’s purpose?!?

It’s not about these smaller actions. As meaningful as they can be, it’s about something bigger.

If we spend all of our lives with friends and family members, we become comfortable. When we’re comfortable, we shy away from pushing our boundaries and expanding our worldviews.

No one has ever accomplished anything truly amazing in their comfort zone. Tweet: No one has ever accomplished anything truly amazing in their comfort zone.

As scary as it can be, investing time and energy into others can help build new relationships that can challenge the way you currently think.

No matter who you are or where you work, it’s easy to unintentionally surround yourself with others like you. Over time, a collective hive-mind forms and pretty soon, everyone believes in the same things and generally stays within the same boundaries.

As soon as I feel this happening, I look for conversation with others who are outside of my immediate group. Whether it’s a stranger or someone I initially met online, I seek out people from different backgrounds.

In these cases, I tend to learn the most from serendipitous moments, like saying yes to someone in need in front of the coffeeshop.

In the past, whenever I have taken a few minutes to help someone in need, I generally ask to hear their story. From recounting days in the military to explaining how they fell on hard times now, these bits of unique insight easily outweigh the $1.85 for a cup of coffee.

The funny thing is after one of these conversations, I can’t help but feel different. After the initial discomfort wears off, my sense of curiosity takes over, which leads me to ask questions.

Selfishly, these questions help me learn more about myself by turning the mirror around. They help challenge my assumptions about the way people think, why they do what they do, and ultimately, why I do what I do.

When I leave these types of conversations, I walk away with a sense of clarity that is usually hard to come by. During these moments, I am able to focus in on what really matters; why I am here and what I’m meant to do.

Maybe you’re looking for the same thing, and maybe you’re not. Either way, you will be surprised at what happens when you stop and treat someone with compassion. If you listen closely enough, you will know what to do next.

This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on purpose from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.

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William is a freelance designer, writer, and founder of Collide, a company that is creating a better, deeper way to connect with others over shared ideas and skills. He is passionate about turning ideas into action and helping others do the same. When not working, William leads a double life as a beatboxer in One Too Many, St. Louis' premiere all-male a cappella group.


  1. William, thanks for your article. I have a hard time responding to people I see on the street who need help. Sometimes I help them when they approach me one-on-one, but I recently had a hard time while out shopping with my daughter, and ended up helping non of those sitting along a few blocks of the shopping district and all asking for money. Instead of choosing someone to help, I passed by all of them! I was totally ashamed and angry at them and myself. I have helped the homeless through my church, etc., but sometimes, I have to admit that I don’t know how to respond. Do you have more thoughts that could help me? Many thanks. Kathy

  2. Thank you William, for framing that which should be so abundantly clear to me, in light of the grace that has been shown to me, time and time again. Clarity with action is truly what I need to hear and resonates with the purpose that I was created for. Actions do speak louder than words.

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