Cultivating the Courage to Take Compassionate Action

What is compassionate action? I’m defining compassionate action as the ability do something to alleviate the pain that’s being experienced by ourselves or others. We take compassionate action because of our love and care for those who are suffering. It is undeniable that at this time, there is so much pain and suffering in our communities and the world.  And while there are many specific painful situations around the world, the greater suffering so many are facing is due to the divisiveness that we are experiencing as a human family. Our world, our country, our communities and in many cases our own homes are divided around different values and visions of the world.

Thus far, the language we are using to communicate with those whose views seem opposed to ours is contributing to, rather than healing, this schism.


Regardless of your political persuasion, we have the responsibility - the ability to respond - as mature and compassionate members of the human family to tend to this divisiveness so that, in the words of Alicia Keys, “we can heal our wounds before they scar.”

There are 4 steps that I’ve identified as essential when cultivating the courage to take compassionate action.


The first step is to acknowledge the impact of this divisiveness on our emotional body. The word courage comes from Latin, from the word cor, meaning heart. To develop courage, first we have to connect to our hearts. It helps to actually look down at your chest as you engage in this process. Allow yourself to feel the pain this divisiveness is creating.

As you connect to your heart and begin to acknowledge the pain you are carrying, ask yourself:

  • - What does your heart say about this pain?

  • - What is important for your heart?

  • - What longings does your heart have?

  • - What does it need you to offer of yourself to help heal this pain?

Make a list based on what your heart said. Seriously, don’t just have it on your mind because it will be easily taken over by thoughts.  Write a list of what your heart tells you is important for you.  Make your list no longer than 3 items so that its contents can fit on a sticky note.

For example, my heart is telling me that what matters to me in this moment is being of service; bringing awareness about the relationships between language and our life experience; and teaching people about the language of equality, compassion and shared power.

Keep your list visible to you. It’s okay if you wrote in a journal, but you need to copy that list on a sticky note and post it on your computer, or a little card that you keep on your wallet or under a magnet on your refrigerator. Having the list visible will help you remind you of what matters to you, especially when you are sucked in by social media and about to respond in a reactionary way that feeds the divisiveness.

Connect to these three items on your list regularly. I often do it in the morning at the end of my meditation practice. I say to myself “may I remember what matters to my heart and may my actions, words and thoughts reflect what matters to me.” And then I say these three things. You don’t need to have a meditation practice to do this. Meditation is part of my daily self-connection practice. So, do this daily during whatever self-connection time you have.

If you don’t have time for self-connection, please consider spending just a few minutes away from electronic devices, people or your other life commitments and devote a little space to connect to your compassionate nature with this little list.


Express what’s important to you often and with many different people. When we tell others what’s important to us, we feel more energized and tap into our capacity to do something about it. Talking about it creates accountability for ourselves.

The more we talk about what matters, the more we can connect to its importance and the more we will know why it is important to us. There’s also another benefit about talking about what matters; it can inspire others to do the same.

I don’t know about you, but I really dislike small talk. So, when I go to a party and I don’t know people, I usually like to know what matters to them. I cannot tell you how many nourishing conversations I had with people, strangers even, about what matters to them and how inspiring that was to me.

Don’t go to parties? No worries, talk about it on social media. I’ve been writing on social media about what matters to me. As a result, an old friend saw my posts and invited me to a meeting where every participant wanted to share what mattered to them and how they could move into action. I came out of that meeting so electrified and ready to take action, plus I reconnected with this old friend!


In order to cultivate action, you need to give your attention and energy to what you identified matters to you and you need to do it in a way that feels integrated with your life. Instead of doing something that feels big and scary all at once, look for the smallest doable actions you can take. Increase the size of the action progressively so that you start to feel into your capacity.

Let me give you an example of a time I took gradual steps to feed my  longing to be of service. I started by looking at the ways in which I wanted to be of service. Brainstorming how I could contribute to others was a small doable and enjoyable action. I wrote a list of ways in which I could contribute.  One of them was to contribute to my new community in San Rafael.  I chose to move forward with that by talking to several people in the area and looking for places where I could be of service.

I ended up teaching two workshops for my new community in San Rafael. In these workshops, people made commitments to take action to heal our pain.


The more you engage with what matters to you, the more gradual actions you take, the more your capacity for compassionate action increases to the point that you can recognize when compassionate action is spontaneously needed in the moment.

I shared with you that what matters to me is raising awareness about the relationship between the language we speak and our experience of the world.  A few weeks ago, I was at the airport as part of a demonstration.

The crowd was peaceful until we closed down a gate and people started gathering around the gate in front of a metal barrier. On the other side of the barrier, there were armed police officers in full riot gear facing the crowd.

A man started yelling the word “pigs” to the police.  As soon as I heard this, I grabbed one of the protest leaders who had a megaphone in his hand and asked him to go calm the man who was yelling.


A few seconds later, I saw the man with the megaphone up front next to the man who was yelling and now they were both yelling “pigs” at the men in uniform using the megaphone!

Without second thought, I grabbed the man with the megaphone and asked him “why are you yelling “pigs” at the police?”  He said, “because it’s the word we used in my time as an activist to refer to the cops.”  I said, then we need a new language!

He said, “do you think Hitler was not a pig?” I said, "I think these cops are not Hitler. I think they are human beings like you and me. Right now, they are doing a job. They have families, too. And I think they are scared.”

The man with the megaphone - who was very tall by the way- did not say anything. He went up front, grabbed the man who was yelling and they both left.

I will confess that my heart was pounding and I did not stop there.

I saw another man with a note pad and a pen. I asked him for a piece of paper and borrowed his pen.  I wrote the mesage on this picture

on the paper, went up front and facing each police officer who made eye contact with me, I showed them my message.  Some nodded, some did nothing. The potential conflict was deflected.

With these four steps you can begin to heed the call of your heart.  You are greatly needed at this moment in history.

You have the capacity to choose actions that will help our human family find relief from the pain we are experiencing. So, look into your heart, talk about what matters to you with others, let your heart guide your gradual actions and be available to life when your compassionate actions are called forth.

And, please, share with me here or on Language Alchemy’s Facebook pagewhat your compassionate actions are.

We all need to inspire one another.