Learning compassion through solitude

Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate.  Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken.  But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering.  What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it…And so we ignore our greatest gift, which is our ability to enter into solidarity with those who suffer.

It is in solitude that this compassionate solidarity grows.  In solitude we realize that nothing human is alien to us, that the roots of all conflict, war, injustice, cruelty, hatred, jealousy, and envy are deeply anchored in our own heart.  In solitude our heart of stone can be turned into a heart of flesh, a rebellious heart into a contrite heart, and a closed heart into a heart that can open itself to all suffering people in a gesture of solidarity.  (Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart, p. 20)

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