8 simple ways to be compassionate

how to be compassionateI feel the energy of my Grandmother all the time. I see her in almost every older woman I encounter. Because of that I end up thinking of Alzheimer’s or dementia or elder care several times a day. I was taught to speak and understand a specific language and now I have the ability to hear it. I zero in on older people everywhere I go. Just a quick assessment. I can’t help it.

I bet you probably hear a unique language as well. There is something that you are honed in on in your life and instinctively you react or connect when there is a need. I call this your “zoom” – what are you zoomed in on?

I have a friend who can not drive past a person on the side of the road without stopping to see if they need help. Many times I have been in the car with a friend and been chatting away and she will spot something and start to pull over saying, “I feel like this person needs help…” I never would have noticed them.

Through observing my amazing friends I have come up with a guide that all of us can look to when we need inspiration for how to help.

8 Simple Ways To Be Compassionate

1. Take notice of elders or people with special needs:
• Once you have assisted someone in a wheelchair or walker it becomes 2nd nature to simply ask someone if they need help getting that item off the top shelf of the grocery store. If you see someone out with their caregiver see if you can help them in some way. It’s a simple, “do you need a hand?”
• Be patient.

2. Be helpful to those in need on the road:
• Not everyone will feel comfortable stopping to help a car pulled off on the side of the road but you CAN call highway patrol.
• If you see an accident or a car that looks like it has very recently been in an accident call 911. Seriously. This was a recent lesson I learned. Why assume that the person in the car can and has called for help? Why assume that someone else will call for them? If you are able to safely make the call do it.

3. Connect with parents in public:
Kelly says,” When I see a child throwing a tantrum in public I try very nicely to make kind eyes or say something nice to the parents. I have two special needs kids, and my youngest was a tantrum kid AND a runner (he seriously has no fear of wandering off alone). I’ve had too many ‘helpful’ people say mean things or give me looks when my kids act up. They aren’t being rude, [the kids] really are doing the best they can.”

4. Pick up/ clean up:
• Box of noodles in the middle of the grocery aisle? Put it back on the shelf. Clothes off the hanger in the dress shop? Rehang them.
• Take a moment and pick up trash on your street. If you have more time, offer to put the trash cart out on the curb for a neighbor who may not be able to. See an empty trash can rolling around on the street? Rescue it.

5. Bring extra supplies:
Valerie says, “Any time my child has to bring something to preschool- a pumpkin, apple, t-shirt, or whatever for a project–I always buy extra. I’ve always been so freaked out that I would be the dingbat who drops the ball on that stuff so I send extra in case some other parent accidentally forgets.”
• Think about carrying an extra snack with you in case someone at the playdate doesn’t have something. (I have totally been the Mom that didn’t bring JACK to a playdate and was so thankful to see another Mom pull out a massive bag of goldfish.)
• I also keep meaning to pack an extra hair tie in my bag because…you never know when someone might need one. I know I would go into a flop sweat if I couldn’t put my hair up.

6. Keep an ear out on the playground:
• Robin says, “I worry about the kids playing sports. If I see a dad coming down hard on his kid for missing a shot I’m all up in that kid’s grill telling him what a good game he played. I bring extra water for all the kids whose parents forget, week after week. I carry an inhaler for the kid who clearly isn’t having his asthma managed. Not just the kids I coach but all the ones I see regularly. So many of these parents– it’s like 1/3 are reliving their own youth through their kids, 1/3 use sports as an excuse to dump them off for 2hrs a week. 1/3 are awesome. I try to be an extra, caring adult in their lives, because I never had that outside person to boost me when I was a kid.”

7. Above and Beyond Kindnesses:
• Is there someone ahead of you in line fumbling for money for a purchase? If you dial in you can get a feel if this fumbling is a panic or an ambling search. A few times I have extended five dollars to the person ahead of me in line with a simple, “I believe you dropped this.” It has been accepted twice.
• Chances are several of us have worked in the food service industry (or had a roommate or friend that did) – this means that we know how frustrating it is to work for tips. If you had a waiter that did their job, and you are able to, tip them handsomely. Try your best not to take out poor service on the amount you leave for a tip.

8. Interact with/ be aware of others:
• Say hello or good morning when walking by someone on a blustery morning – or any morning for that matter.
• Hold the door open for people behind you. Teach your children how to do this.
• Compliment each other! I can’t help myself on this one. If I see someone with amazing shoes or beautiful hair the compliment flies out of my mouth.
• Help each other. See a large bit of tp on the end of someone’s shoe (or a similar oopsie appearance situation)? Take the time to let someone know. I have had a stranger on a subway in NYC tell me that I had mustard on my face and while it was incredibly embarrassing to be told I was SO THANKFUL to not walk around the rest of my day that way.

What would you add to this list?

I’m curious to know if you have something specific that you hone in or zoom in on in the world to focus your compassion. What are other ways that we can connect and help each other?


  1. All of this is awesome….really…

  2. What a gorgeous, gorgeous list. Thank you.

    Re: that last one, I felt particularly successful the time that I told a woman at a subway station about her open fly after first telling her how great her outfit looked. It was easy to do — it WAS a great outfit — and seemed like it softened the blow a bit.

    The one about bringing extra craft supplies made me tear up, both as a child of spacey parents and a former teacher of very, very poor children. What a wonderful habit.

  3. Also, if there is a special event coming up at school such as a field trip, the book fair, or yearbooks going up for sale you could offer to pay for another child who may forget his/her money or not be able to afford it. It could be as little as a dollar, or five, or ten but it could make a huge difference to a child who may feel left out.

  4. I love the dropped $5. I have often wanted to help in the grocery line and never thought of such a smooth way to do it. I know it’s hard to stop to help when a car breaks down, but it’s incredibly rewarding. If you can’t push, you can sit in the car and turn the wheel, or you can wave the other cars around, or park your car so that it protects those who are pushing. I stopped for a woman whose battered car and missing teeth told the same story, and when she told me that she had run out of gas, I knew that the most important thing I could do was not judge, and help her get the car off the road cheerfully. Having a disabled vehicle is so mortifying, and scary, and whenever it’s happened to me I have just felt onstage and miserable, especially when no one stops. I had a minor spinout on a weirdly oily road, and a man who stopped offered to get my car back on the road pointed in the right direction because I was too freaked out, and then he walked out and put himself in traffic to stop the cars so I could get back in (living in the Bible Belt has its rewards). Another man stopped just to tell me that he had had the same spinout in the same spot, which helped me tremendously since i was feeling like an idiot.
    Another thing, which is subtle, is to radiate patience. the person in front of me at the grocery was having an epic coupons-and-food-stamps checkout that was taking 20 minutes. I just told myself to smile, and play with my son, and act like this was the most normal grocery line in the world and that I was having too much fun to notice the probably embarrassing moment the family in front of me was having. Why did I think to do this? because of your posts about public assistance. I’m crazy about this post.

  5. This is all wonderful stuff — but so much of it is just simple, commonsense, good manners that we should have learned in kindergarten. How & why have so many of us gone astray?? :(

  6. I would add patience around communication difficulties. Somebody with a stutter, somebody whose first language isn’t English… whatever the factor that’s slowing communication down, just take a breath, look them in the eye, smile and be patient. Don’t rush them, don’t try to speak for them, just smile, radiate calmness and give them time to have their say. I’m in a program right now with a guy with a significant stammer, and the number of heavy sighs, tsks etc. that came out of our class group anytime he started to speak just made me seethe inside.

  7. Great list, I love it, especially the one about bringing extra supplies to school! they are all good words to live by!!

  8. I love this list, though I need to comment – I would be oh so upset if a mother at a playground decided one of my children had ‘unmanaged asthma’ and administered an inhaler without my permission. I find that rather horrifying.

  9. When I was teaching, there were many times that I provided the birthday cupcakes for a kid when the parent didn’t. When Elizabeth starts school, I am going to tell the teachers that I will do the same thing if there is a kid in their class who doesn’t get any and that they can even let me know on an emergency basis that they need cupcakes ASAP.

    My friend Leslie takes chocolate to her son’s teachers if it rains during the week. (No recess!)

    We let people go in front of us in line a lot. Not as much now as before I had a small person to shop with, but before she was born, I did it almost every trip.

    I am also a finder of lost kids in stores. I recognize the facial expression of a kid that is lost and I find them an employee.

    And if I ever see a kid out in public in a costume, I stop in amazement and whisper in awe “are you the real ….”

  10. Yeah, I’m with jane on the inhaler. Albuterol and Xopenex are prescription medications and they don’t necessarily work the same on everybody. Giving someone else’s child a prescription medication (unless it is clearly an emergency–eg major asthma attack, parent there who asks for an inhaler) is a REALLY REALLY REALLY bad idea.

  11. Love this list, and seeing what moves us all to action. I also find money a lot and try to get it back to the owner. I found out some stores (cough, Target, cough) absorb the money turned in if no one claims it. So from now on when I find checks I’ll mail them to the sender, and when I find cash I will try to find the owner and if I can’t I’ll use it for random acts of kindness.

  12. My Addition to the list would be, offer help to a family that is experiencing a rough time. Like when I had my miscarriages, I was so grateful to the people who acknowledged my loss and offered to listen, or brought a dinner over, or offered to drive my older daughter to school when I couldn’t get out of bed. Don’t always assume that they have family that will help out or that they will ask for the help they need. This applies to deaths in the family but also to births too. Having a cooked meal show up one afternoon after I brought my new baby home from the hospital was one of the nicest things that anyone ever did for me. It only happened once, those first few weeks were so difficult, I just wish someone else would have reached out.

  13. I am so glad I know you!

    Wonderful post.

    One thing I do is that I always pay attention to wandering dogs on busy streets. I have been late to meetings because I stopped to check out a dog that was wandering, and, if the dog is friendly and approachable, I’ll pick the dog up and call whatever number is on its tag (or just take it home if there’s an address there). At the very least (if it’s not friendly, or if it’s scared, or if it runs away) I call animal control.

    A wandering dog is potential heartbreak. Not only for the family that lost it, but also for anyone who gets hurt if it causes an accident. My dog has escaped my yard twice and both times been returned by caring strangers.

  14. Wonderful post.

    When I was a kid, someone in my family was murdered after stopping to help someone on the side of the road, so I was raised never, ever to stop. But I have called 911.

    In addition to holding the door for people behind me, one of my zooms is when people ahead of me are struggling with a door. If I can, I run ahead to hold it for them — especially the elderly, the disabled, people with their hands full, people struggling to manage to fit a big stroller through the door as I so often am. Last week we were about to leave a museum and in front of us at the exit were what looked like a preteen girl with a walking toddler and an infant in a stroller, really struggling with the door. DH rushed ahead to hold the door for her. The girl turned out to be a Little Person — but it’s almost impossible to hold open a door while pushing a stroller and also holding a squirming toddler’s hand, for anyone.

  15. GREAT POST! I really needed to read something like this today. Thank you.

  16. We used to have a neighbour whose huge scaredy-cat dog always escaped the back yard. I assume she was able to sail over the fence. But we’d always take her home. One year she got out on the 4th of July, and her people were gone, and she was quivering with terror every time a firework went off. So we brought her into our house and let the big baby sit on our laps until her family came back home.

    And I do like cheering up wailing kids at the grocery store when I can.

    I like the idea about the dropped cash. There were a few times that I’d help out someone who was short, but didn’t know how to do it in a way that wouldn’t potentially embarrass the person. That is a GREAT idea.

    And last, but certainly not least, not too long after I was married we were going through a really rough spot. One day we got a note in the mail, with a $20 bill, signed “Phil Brotherly.” We had no idea who sent it to us, but it was such a blessing. There have been times that I’ve sent Phil Brotherly or Phil Sisterly letters to others. It’s fun.

  17. Earlier this week I let someone ahead of me in the coffee drive through line (she came in the back entrance and there was no way to enter the back of the line from there). The 8 people behind me were probably cursing me. But, really, what’s the big deal…one more coffee order when you got in the line with 10 cars in it anyhow. Well, turns out the lady paid for my drink. When I drove up to the window, the person said, “The lady in front of you paid for your drink.” WOW! Nice on my part, nicer on hers. Such a nice start to the day.

  18. I have to also say the asthma thing is a bad idea, a kid in the town I lived in recently died because someone thought he was having an asthma attack and they gave him a dose off their inhaler. It interacted with the medicines he was taking and gave him a heart attack. As a mom with a kid with asthma I can see how it could be tempting, but after seeing this town torn apart, and the fact that the person who gave them the inhaler now feels like she murdered the poor boy, I would never, ever do it.

  19. YES

    I would add: if you think something nice about someone- say it! It’s a great feeling on both ends.

    Also NOTES
    Thank you notes for services or just little written praise on a servers receipt or what have you.

  20. I have paid for the people in line behind me at fast food places.

    I love love love your list and I love the idea of saying “I think you dropped this” to the person in front of you at the grocery store.

    Yes, I get behind the foodstamp or otherwise slow people and like the person mentioned, I just smile and look real interested in the candy bars like I can’t make up my mind which to get and don’t even notice the EBT card or slow line.

  21. Wonderful suggestions but my lawyer mind blinked on red alert at the tip about offering an asthma inhaler to someone else’s wheezing child. The thought is well-intentioned but giving medication to a someone whose medical history is unknown to you can end in tragedy. Call 911 if the kid can’t breathe and his or her parents aren’t around. Again, nice thought, but DON’T play medic if you’re not one. A band-aid for a scraped knee is different, of course.

  22. When leaving a building, I always look behind me before I let go of the door.

  23. I frequently pick up grocery gift cards – you hardly notice an extra $5, 10, or even 20 after all your groceries go through (or use the amount you are under your budget for that trip), and keep them in the car to give to those holding ‘Need help’ signs. With kids in the car or at home, I can’t pick them up and bring them home for a meal, but everyone needs food (Yes they also can get non food items, but I can’t control that) and I’m more likely to give if I’m prepared. And if you know you will shortly be driving by this individual again, come back with a coffee or hot chocolate for each of you! the time you show interest in them and their circumstance is probably more welcome than anything else.

    I love the idea of sending extra to school for projects, field-trips, or birthdays – I’m definitely doing that! What a great way to include your kids in spreading compassion!

    We may have given some friends who were a little short at Christmas time 3 wrapped boxes of cereal (one for each kid – who doesn’t like cereal?!?) and a card with $ for the family, anonymously. Having been on the receiving end of anonymous gifts in the mail, we hope it blessed them as much as we’ve felt.

    If the weather looks at all questionable, our teenage son runs across the street and brings the paper from the street to the door of an elderly widow. Our daughter can’t wait until she’s old enough to do it by herself! Her garbage cans often get brought in from the street, too.

    Learn people’s names, and when you meet them next, ask how they are (using their name) and actually wait for an answer. People notice that you care.

    Start a ‘meal train’ for someone who needs meals for whatever reason. (Take Them A Meal.com is a great, free website that helps manage the organization of meals)

    Thank you so much for posting this, I’ve already shared it on my facebook!

  24. Deb Wilson says:

    My son and I LOVE to stop and help people catch a runaway dog. We have a dog, and the thought of her running on the streets is heart stopping. We pull the car to a hault and both call and help! Dogs are more willing to come to a stranger with a cute face! We’ve even been known offer cupcakes to scared pups! 😉

  25. I love this list! it’s such a great reminder to look outside of our own lives.

    I would add LISTEN and BE INVOLVED. Lately, people don’t listen to each other and it makes people feel unappreciated and runover. I love it when someone just listens and talks back to me when I’m finished. Being involved in the conversation instead of being preoccupied especially when the other person is distressed, lonely, upset, scared.

    Thank you for this!!!

  26. When my husband or I are out and we see people who are obviously together, but are trying to take each other’s picture or are doing the “hold the camera or smartphone up and at angle thing to get their picture together”, we always ask if they would like us to take a picture of them together. People usually appreciate that and are very happy to have a nice picture of them and their friend/partner, but are afraid or concerned about asking strangers to take the pic.

  27. I always stop at kids who have lemonade stands and pay with a a dollar and say keep the change. The kids LOVE it and I remember when I was a kid how excited we’d get when we would get a customer!!! Great list by the way! Pay it forward!!

  28. CountryGal says:

    Put your own shopping cart back in the Corral. If you have time and ice cream isn’t melting – grab a few others and put them back.

  29. Serena Talbott says:

    Helping lost animals is the concern that stops me in my tracks. A quick trip with them to an animal shelter is so much better than leaving them to wander in a world that can be very dangerous for them.

  30. Love your post. I love love and in anyway that it is extended to another is amazing and the ripple effect of that act goes on and on and on.
    I am in constant gratitude for my life I practice it, I say it out loud, I own it, by doing that what I see in others I am grateful for.
    I extent acts of kindness to others for fun and for free I give with no attachments and in those moments I receive more then I could have ever imagined.
    I ask a stranger how they are doing then I listen to their reply, I listen to the tone the inflections and their body language I give them all of my present moment I pause AND then I reply accordingly. It sounds easy, it’s not. We are conditioned to responed we are not conditioned to responed after actively listening to another. Try it!
    The truest practice of compassion I have found is Loving myself the more Love I see in me the more Love I will see in you.
    Please keep posting. Smiles


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