The Seven Habits of Highly Compassionate People


Carrying a baseball bat, a man entered the New York convenience store of Mohammad Sohail demanding:”Give me the money.” Mohammad reached under the counter where he kept a rifle and pointed it at the robber’s face forcing him to let go of the bat. The robber was unaware that Mohammad never kept the gun loaded. Dropping to his knees, the robber began to cry and plea with Mohammad

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I have no food. I have no money. My whole family is hungry. Don’t call the police. Don’t shoot me.”

Mohammad lowered his rifle telling the man he would not call the police but asked him to promise never to rob anyone ever again. The man agreed and Mohammad handed the man $40 and a loaf of bread. He left the counter to get more food for the man but when he returned the man was gone with the cash and bread.

Six months later, Mohammad received a letter with no return address. Inside there was a $50 bill and this note: “At the time I had no money, no food on my table, no job and nothing for my family. I know that it was wrong, but I had no choice. I needed to feed my family. When you had that gun to my head I was 100 percent certain that I was going to die. Now I have a new child and a good job making good money, staying out of trouble and taking care of my family. You gave me $40. Thank you for sparing my life. Because of that, you changed my life.”

After reading that letter, Mohammad described his feelings: “I am very happy that somebody got to change his life. When you do good things for somebody, it comes back to you. I gave him $40 and he sent me back $50. It was a good investment.”

Compassion is indeed a good investment. The Dalai Lama says: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Though it seems that the world is filled with cruelty and unkindness, there are many, many exceptions. All over the planet and in every community there are countless women and men who daily live out kindness and compassion. You can be one of them.

Here are the seven habits of highly compassionate people:

1. Highly compassionate people take action. Sometimes it’s a lot, sometimes it’s a little. Either way, whenever they see a need they respond, doing whatever they can. They don’t turn away. Abraham Lincoln was well known and, consequently, highly respected for his compassion. As the Civil War raged on, he was besieged with requests for pardons from young men who were sentenced to death for desertion. Such appeals were accompanied by several testimonial letters from family, friends and leading figures. One day Lincoln received an appeal for a pardon, but it was unusual in that it arrived without a single letter of support for the prisoner. Surprised by this, Lincoln investigated and tracked down an officer who knew the man and his situation. The officer explained to Lincoln that this soldier did not have a single friend and that this entire family were killed in the war. Lincoln wrestled with his decision all night. He knew that pardoning the man would bring him the wrath of his generals who felt it would send the wrong message to other troops and would undermine military discipline. By morning Lincoln’s decision was made. He asked that a letter of pardon be drafted telling his aides that the testimony of a friend helped Lincoln issue the pardon. When the president was reminded that the request came with no supportive correspondence from any friend, Lincoln said: “I will be his friend.” He then signed the letter of pardon.

2. Highly compassionate people operate on the commonality principle. “The major block to compassion is the judgment in our minds. Judgment is the mind’s primary tool of separation,” observes Rev. Diane Berke. Rather than see differences and distinctions between themselves and others, the highly compassionate recognize commonality and unity. They understand that the bottom line is this: we’re all the same and wanting the same basic things in life. Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron reminds us: “True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those less fortunate than ourselves but from realizing our kinship with all beings.” To deepen your compassion banish artificial separation between “us and them.” Do this by repeating these affirmations — and intentionally direct them toward family, friends, acquaintances, strangers and especially those individuals you find annoying and irritating:

  • Just like me, this person is seeking happiness.
  • Just like me, this person wants a meaningful life.
  • Just like me, this person seeks to avoid suffering.
  • Just like me, this person wants to be accepted and loved.
  • Just like me, this person is trying to learn and grow in life.
  • Just like me, this person experiences sadness, wounds and loneliness.

3. Highly compassionate people are ordinary individuals who do extraordinary things. Recently, the family of a 12-year-old Palestinian boy who was killed by Israeli soldiers donated one of his kidneys to an Israeli youth. “It doesn’t matter whether the recipient was a Jew or an Arab,” they said. Their son, Ahmed Khatib was shot on the West Bank and rushed to an emergency room in Haifa. He died without recovering consciousness. The army said Ahmed had a toy gun, which soldiers mistook for a rifle. Ahmed’s family, moved by compassion, agreed to the donation after they saw the young Israeli kidney patient. That family’s action helps us understand what Author Jack Kornfield means when he describes compassion as the quivering of the pure heart — when we have allowed ourselves to be touched by the pain of life.”

4. Highly compassionate people care. It’s as simple as that. They care about others. Whether they know them or not is incidental. They help out in any way they can. Just such compassion may have been in the mind of poet William Blake when he penned these words: “Can I see another’s woe, and not be in sorrow too? Can I see another’s grief, and not seek for kind relief?” This type of compassion was experienced, several times, by Patti Candelari. Her wallet was stolen while on a business trip, something she discovered while on a layover at the Detroit airport on her way home to New York. Hungry, she explained her situation asking the restaurant manager for a meal. He gave her a free lunch. Upon arriving in New York City she realized she did not have the $20 for airport parking. As she pleaded her case with the lot attendant cars were lining up behind her. Then the man in the vehicle directly behind hers got out, walked to the toll window and paid for her. “I got his address and later mailed him a check.” Finally, on the New York Thruway, the toll collector waved her through after she explained her circumstances. “Three different people helped me make my way home!”

5. Highly compassionate people often act anonymously. They do their good deeds in secret, behind the scenes, avoiding recognition and praise. A woman tells of a time when she and her 5-year-old daughter were sledding in Vermont near their home. “I was watching her coast down the hill when she suddenly disappeared. She’d slid into a snow-covered hole — not much bigger than she was — created by construction going on nearby.” The mother could not reach down far enough to get to her and was too frightened to leave her alone in the dark, snow-filled hole. She tried screaming for her family but no one heard. She was panicking when a man, walking his dog in the snow, heard and ran over. He held the mother by her ankles so she could slide into the hole and pull her daughter out. He walked them both back to her house. By the time the mother had calmed down enough to thank him, he was already gone.

6. Highly compassionate people know it is an unending activity. There is no time and no place when compassion ceases. They view it as an unending, lifelong obligation. Consider this example of Rabbi Israel Salanter, a leading 19th century European Jewish leader. In the last year of his life he became ill so the Jewish community hired a caregiver to be with him at all times. The caregiver was a kind man but without any formal education. Late one night when Rabbi Salanter felt his death was imminent, he spent his final moments reassuring the caretaker that he should not be frightened nor be nervous about being alone in a room with a corpse.

7. Highly compassionate people engage in random acts of compassion routinely. They would understandably agree with this advice from journalist Oliver Thomas: “Don’t just walk by the homeless person. Take her to lunch. Give your coat to the man standing on the windy street corner in a threadbare jacket. You’ve probably got more at home. Throw a twenty in the Salvation Army’s pot when you’re shopping. Just start doing kind things for others. Compassion must be practiced and here’s the thing: Behavior begets habit. Habit begets character. Next thing you know, you’ve become a compassionate person.”

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Victor Parachin
Victor Parachin is a journalist and author of a dozen books. Contact him at [email protected].


  1. Highly compassionate people do not try to fix other people. People who are in trouble are not helped by being bailed out of their trouble. They are helped by helping them find a path to help themselves.


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