Yesterday when I took my dogs to the vet, I met a remarkable man and his fortunate dog. As I entered the waiting room I saw a man sitting in a chair tending to a blue wagon. The wagon held a large, older, mixed breed, dog. I had to keep track of my puppy and my older dog who were both on a leash. I took care, as there were several dogs in the room. I didn’t want any over socialization to come from my pups. I sat near enough the man to speak with him. But right about then several other dogs came into the waiting room and my attention went back to my dogs.
One of the veterinarian technicians came out and wheeled the man’s wagon (and his dog) into the back treatment room. I watched the man as he looked sad and concerned. I pondered what he and his dog were experiencing. I watched my own process while I sat there. I watched my compassion grow. I realized that I felt compelled to offer support for the stranger sitting beside me. I’ve had many dogs, and I have sat in this waiting room countless times. Many times with that same concerned look and a heavy heart. I realized it was more than compassion that I was feeling. It was empathy.
Compassion and Empathy – What’s the Difference?
I often visit with people about the difference between compassion and empathy. Empathy is compassion on a deeply personal level. Empathy is feeling compassion swell up in the cells of our body. It is deeply relating to another’s pain. Empathy understands pain on the level of experience. Empathy is what I was feeling for this man.
Finally, things calmed down in the waiting room and I was able to speak with the gentleman sitting beside me. I took quite a while to form my words. I didn’t want to intrude. I wanted to offer an opening for discussion, should he want to connect and share. So, I simply stated, that I thought the wagon was a brilliant idea. And that I once had a dog that was paralyzed. I mentioned a wagon would’ve been very helpful back then. The man looked up from his hands that were holding his head and said, “He’s a good dog”. I feared what might come next. I feared that perhaps they were wheeling the dog into the back room and that he may not return. But then the man told me, “I guess it’s a neurological problem. They can’t seem to find the answers to fix it. But that’s OK because with the wagon I can take him anywhere he needs to go.” I felt an overwhelming sense of appreciation and respect for the love that I was witnessing in the waiting room at the vet. This man was completely dedicated to his dog.
I was assuming he had had this dog all his life and perhaps this ailment was something that just came on. But then the man went on to tell me that the vet had been helping him to resolve the problem and that the dog actually had the paralysis when the man adopted him. I was shocked. This man was a long ways from his youth, and the thought that he took on such a responsibility to help a physically challenged, older dog just amazed me. I said that I was glad that if it was neurological it, most likely, meant there wasn’t pain involved. At least that was the experience with my dog. He said, “Yes he’s a very happy dog.”
Soon they brought the wagon back and the man went up to pay his bill. I sat with the warmth and a glow and a remembrance of the true beauty within humans. Far too often we hear of tragedy, defensiveness, betrayal, and violence. This seems to be what sells the news, and what makes the headlines. Though now there is an alternative. Now, with the Internet, we can choose what we read.
It is my intention to share the beauty and the wealth in the nature of humans. Quite often my friends and clients joke with me that my answer to most questions is, “compassion”. I’ve built somewhat of a reputation on this statement. This is a reputation that I will work hard to uphold. Deep within every human being, no matter how lost, no matter how defensive or how scared a person is, there is a source of love. This source can be covered up when we allow our attention to drift away from what we see as positive. The source seems inaccessible from a habitual, negative state of mind. Our experiences can be greatly altered by our perceptions. How we feel can change what we see. If we practice a negative way of seeing life, life becomes incredibly negative.
Therefore as we shift our perspective we do indeed, change our world. This is a key message in the philosophy I share. We can come from a compassionate heart and see more love in the world. This man demonstrated to me the true meaning of life as I see it. The true meaning for me is allowing our journey to enrich another’s, while simultaneously expanding our capacity for love. I hope by sharing the story with you, of this lovely man and his happy dog, it will expand your heart as it did mine. By sharing one’s sense for empathetic compassion it increases the recognition for it in our world.