illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
Compassion is manifest in caring, engaging… Pity is manifest in an intent to separate oneself from the suffering. « Poor you! » is very much an insistence on « I'm glad you are the poor one, not me. »
Caring starts with an intent to bring a smile on a sufferer's face. Regardless of the odds.
It doesn't matter if it's a smile of gratitude, a smile in response to your smile, a smile at a joke, a smile of deep happiness or of temporary relief… but a smile. And sometimes the context isn't supportive of the intent, and the smile doesn't arise, but we can still maintain the intent; because the conditions have changed already, maybe there's an opportunity for a smile now, here!
Can sometimes a smile hide a deeper suffering? Of course. But the smile still is a sign of communication, it still is a door open, for care, for mending, for help… If you get a smile, you can probably do more. So intend to get a smile! "The cessation of suffering, for all beings", remember? "Small steps", remember?
It's easy to be sarcastic, or to ask "what does that do?", but what does such an attitude do? ;-) You have a choice, what will you do? Pretend it doesn't matter?
Once, I wrote: « Aspire to a 'practical' Enlightenment, an Enlightenment that stays engaged with the world as it is… i.e. not postponing Enlightenment until all conditions are perfectly supportive, and not making Enlightenment out of reach by simply assuming it's unreachable in this world as it is now! One-step-at-a-time Enlightenment! »
One-step-at-a-time Enlightenment starts with the intent to get a smile: generosity, compassion, loving-kindness, patience, perseverance, wisdom… Restraint of anger, but not of right action, not of right speech…
Wisdom might be manifest in wise jokes! Intentions do matter. Intend to get a smile, then do what it takes to wholesomely get it.
Compassion and loving-kindness is a love that accepts reality as it is, accepts that none of us can save others but that we nonetheless must provide our best effort to help the others save themselves (and this is done by us altering the conditions at hand, so that their circumstances are as supportive as they might be: we cannot save others, but we are not powerless… a Middle Way!).
Photo via WFP: a Syrian refugee smiles as she carries food from the World Food Programme home to her family. #syria #childrenofsyria