What can we learn about change and compassion in Australia and our globally–connected world right now? I noticed two things during the first month of coronavirus in Australia (and after lockdown 2.0 in Melbourne it’s even more obvious). This is our ability to change – and perhaps more importantly, our ability to change because of compassion.

So how are change and compassion linked?

Let’s start with what compassion is. Compassion isn’t simply kindness or sympathy. The word ‘compassion’ literally means to ‘suffer with’. Compassion is a willingness to enter into another person’s pain, grief or difficulty and to sit with them in that place. Not to fix it. Not to give advice. But simply to suffer alongside them, suffer with them.

For many of us, a positive COVID-19 test would be a minor inconvenience. But we have accepted the restrictions that turned our lives upside down in order to care for others. We are ‘suffering with’ the vulnerable individuals and communities for whom COVID-19 is much more than a minor inconvenience. The dramatic and sacrificial change we witnessed throughout the pandemic is encouraging. It shows that we are capable of compassion that significantly changes the way we live. Unlike toilet paper, compassion can’t be stockpiled. Its value is in being given away.

Let’s take it another step.

Imagine a situation where you would like to see change and witness compassion. How could you take what you have learned about your ability to change and apply it in another part of life? Compassion is something we learn and intentionally put into practice, until it becomes as natural as muscle memory.

I’m excited when I think about what this shows young people about their capacity to change and grow and what compassion looks like. In 2014 an Australian study reported:

  • 1 in 3 students experience racial bullying every month.
  • Over 20% of students experience racial bullying every day.
  • 2 in 3 students reported seeing other students experiencing harm because of their cultural background.
  • Students being told, “You don’t belong in Australia.”

“You don’t belong here.”

Imagine what it feels like to hear those words. Or perhaps you don’t need to imagine. How might compassion transform these statistics in schools? How might compassion transform the way we relate to people who are different to us? What if we stopped and felt their suffering – really felt it?

CHAT is a program for schools and youth groups using activity-based learning to help young people build respect, understanding and appreciation for one another across their differences. Change and Compassion are just two of the transformative areas we explore as we engage with cultural differences.

The compassionate heart of God

I’ve been struck by how often God is described as compassionate. Throughout Exodus, Kings, the prophets, the Psalms and the gospels we are presented again and again with a God who is compassionate. In fact the most referenced verse throughout the Old Testament is Exodus 34:6-7 starting with ‘Yahweh, a God compassionate and gracious.’ A God who ‘suffers with’ us. We can see this when God humbled himself and took on flesh. By becoming human he entered all the suffering that comes with being human. Rejection. Betrayal. Hunger. Thirst. Humiliation. Grief. Loss. Emmanuel, God with us. God suffering with us, the father of compassion (2 Cor 1:3).

Change and compassion are linked because compassion should change us. It should make our character more like the character of God. We are told to clothe ourselves with compassion (Col 3:12) and to grow into the likeness of the Father. What opportunities is God presenting you with to grow in and practice compassion?

“How might compassion transform the way we relate to people who are different to us? What if we stopped and felt their suffering – really felt it?”