Compassion as Patience

Compassion as Patience

In last week’s TED Talk on compassion, Karen Armstrong gave us a definition of compassion. She said it meant an ability to dethrone ourselves and to put someone else first. She said it was an ability to feel with the other.


In today’s YouTube video Zac Efron and Elmo of Sesame Street demonstrate patience or what McNeill, Morrison and Nouwen in their book “Compassion” (1982) define as the compassionate way: “The compassionate way is the patient way. Patience is the discipline of compassion.” (p 92) The authors go on to point out the Latin root of both words, patience and compassion is pati. Pati in Latin means suffering.


Not so surprising, as I was studying for this post and reading the above book, I had an opportunity to test their definition. I was asked by a friend to pick him up from the hospital after he had outpatient surgery. I had committed to this before reading their definition, but on the morning I was going to pick up my friend, I kept that simple idea—the compassionate way is the patient way—in my mind and found myself acting strangely. I was totally relaxed, ready to wait for as long as it took. Of course, it took much longer than I had been told it would. I ended up late for my next commitment for the day and while this is highly unusual for me, I found myself at ease and not filled with anxiety.


I think McNeill, Morrison and Nouwen have something here: “the compassionate way is the patient way”. What do you think or do you have any other definitions that are meaningful for you?

2 thoughts on “Compassion as Patience

  1. I think living a life of com[assion or following the patient way is another way of saying that it’s better to live in the present moment. When we do that we are totally present to what is going on around us. It takes us from the center of things and puts us in a different frame of mind. Our friend is what’s most important, listening to a story we’ve already heard before, letting someone go before us in a long grocery line, stopping to enjoy the flowers we’ve never noticed before…this helps us to live life with patience and compassion. All around us people are lonelu, forgottten and all we need to do is notice them and give them a moment of our time, Nothing is more important than people.

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