“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” Dalai Lama
Two blocks away from my home is a small animal shelter. Every evening as I’m walking my dog, I wave at the friendly volunteers from the Animal Welfare League of Arlington who are out with the rescue dogs. These are animals that have no home or family to take care of them. Yet, if the volunteers weren’t wearing matching t-shirts from the shelter, you’d likely never know the difference. The dogs seem happy, healthy and well trained.
In anticipation of wanting to start a blog about PURPOSEFUL living and working, the shelter caught my attention. I had already been impressed with the countless volunteers who seemed to support the shelter, and I was curious to learn more. But when I visited their website and researched their core values, it was their focus on Compassion that most stood out.
Compassion: sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it
This past week, I went to visit the shelter. While I was impressed with the many services they provide for animals ranging from guinea pigs to raccoons, I was more interested to ask questions about their purpose – specifically, the reason behind why they do what they do. From the surface, my question may seem obvious. There are animals in distress and the shelter aims to serve as a resource to help. But after a decade working in TV news and another six years promoting nonprofits, I’ve learned that motivation or intention plays a huge role in the effectiveness of achieving noble goals.
I imagined what would happen if compassion were removed from the shelter? While the dogs, cats and other animals would likely still receive food, water and a roof over their heads, I suspect the joy witnessed among the animals and volunteers would easily disappear.
What IS compassion? I asked my questions of several staff and volunteers as we played with a few of the dogs in the back yard. I grinned as a ball bounced our way during the interview and an eager dog happily rushed after it.
It’s not just feeling sorry for the animals, I was told. True compassion requires action.
I was impressed with the volunteers who repeatedly told me that their value of compassion motivated them to serve at the shelter. It wasn’t enough for them to simply have pity or sympathy. They knew something had to be done, and they truly wanted to help ease the animals’ distress.
Yet, what surprised me most was when I asked what practicing compassion does for the person being compassionate.
Joy. It brings joy, shared a retiree who visits the shelter daily to help with the animals. Another staffer said she constantly sees volunteers leaving with smiles on their faces after spending time serving.
I ended my interview asking if compassion is something that can be learned.
It’s like learning to ride a bike, I was told. You just need to start and you’ll get better over time. People don’t need to start with BIG compassion. You can start with little compassion or just helping anyone you see in need or who needs help.
The few hours I spent at the shelter has since shifted my perception about what it means to be compassionate. Now when I pass by the volunteer dog walkers each evening, I can’t help but notice how their compassion is achieving far more than helping the animals at the shelter. Now when I walk past them, I seem to notice how the volunteers are smiling too.
Approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year. Learn more about Animal Homelessness and how you can practice compassion in your local area.
Hear more from the Animal Welfare League of Arlington on what it means to live & work with compassion. Listen to Compassion Part 1 – How A Local Animal Shelter Models Compassion.
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