Let's start with this fine definition that has been on my mind a lot lately.
COMPASSION: sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it -MERRIAM-WEBSTER
The definition of compassion is why I do the work I do with The Collective (of Us.) And if you’re reading this, then I have a feeling that it’s also a part of why you choose to do what you do in the world.
I live in New York and people ask for money for all kinds of reasons on the subways or streets. It's part of the backdrop of this city. My general rule is this: if you play an instrument, dance, read poetry or sing--I'll give you money. It doesn’t matter if you are very good or not, I'll still give you money because you put your soul and your art on display for people who may not enjoy it. Maybe they will, but they didn't ask for it so maybe they won't. As a small business owner, this idea tugs at my heartstrings regardless of how pragmatic I am. These people show up, literally and figuratively for their art.
I sort of draw an invisible line at giving when people just flat out ask with no real reason except "hard times..." (Though I've broken that rule on many occasions too.) There was this one moment of pure realization and compassion that I do want to tell you regarding this rule.
It was a moment of witnessing someone's dignity being put on public display.
It was the moment when a man, about 60years old, walked from the previous subway car to the one that I was in. He was clean and carried a purple nylon backpack along with a cup for shaking. He walked through to the center. I was sitting in the corner seat, closest to him, with full view of each move he made.
He stopped very consciously for a split second before shaking his cup and making himself seen.
He stopped before moving into his speech about why he needed money.
In that split second, I witnessed it happen. I witnessed humanity. And in that moment, I felt how similar we were, rather than how different.
The man "begging" on the subway for money is a human being with dignity; and his pause reflected that. Regardless of his circumstance, he didn’t want to be there. He didn’t want to ask strangers for help. What he needed most in that moment was not judgment, but compassion.
“The sympathetic consciousness of other’s distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” That is exactly what this man needed and it’s also what so many of us need while others may stand by and judge. Think about that the next time any of these thoughts cross your mind about another woman, entrepreneur or hell, any human being. (She’s too big, too skinny, too pretty, too stupid, too religious, too ANYTHING.)
Perhaps a conscious desire to support one another and alleviate each other’s pain would make being a woman in business a whole lot easier. Perhaps, collectively, we do all rise. Perhaps we can change how challenging it is to start your own business, especially as a woman. Perhaps we can change our mindset about the struggles of others, then our businesses and then the entire world. But first comes compassion. This, my friend, can ignite anything.
p.s. I gave him money and got off at the next stop.
The moment of compassion is when we let down every wall we’ve put up and stop following our own rules for the sake of connection and love.