“Compassion is … a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” So says Pema Chodron, an American Tibetan Buddhist who runs an abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada.

This reminds me of “patient-centered care,” which has emerged as a major force in the healthcare professions for the last 15 years. Here we see a shift from the patient as passive receptor of medical expertise to the acknowledgment that the patient is the primary agent in their own healing, even defining what healing is.

I recall the clarity of my mother in her final weeks, telling the doctors that she did not want to remain in the hospital and she was ready to forgo treatment in order to be with her family. That was her definition of healing. We were fortunate that her doctor supported her, and as a result, my mother spent many powerful days and nights with me, my sisters and father before she passed. It was a tremendous lesson for me as to what constitutes health and the power of an individual to chart their own course through the final passage of life.

So, here is Pema Chodron extending this same model to compassion. I was trained to think of compassion is a state of mind that someone more fortunate brings to working with those who are less fortunate. Now, I see the error implicit in this model. Each of us is a soul in our own right regardless of our circumstances. In that sense, we are truly among equals, whatever we are doing.

Who do you care deeply about and how might you approach them as an equal to find a way forward through a difficult issue?

“Mama was my greatest teacher, a teacher of compassion, love, and fearlessness. If love is sweet as a flower, then my mother is that sweet flower of love.”
Stevie Wonder