Nice guys finish last. Only the good die young. Look out for number one. These common phrases would have you think that people are generally selfish, competitive, and indifferent to the needs of others. There have been studies on the biological basis of compassion that argue otherwise. Neuroscientists at Emory University discovered that helping others stimulates brain activity in the reward and pleasure center of the brain. At the same time, real changes in physiology, such as a lowered heart rate, accompany the emotion we feel when we act compassionately. In fact, the body produces higher levels of oxytocin – the feel-good hormone that is released through touch, music, and exercise – when we express signs of compassion with warm smiles, helping hands, and hugs. So one could say that compassion begets compassion, and we are hard-wired for it!
So it may not be surprising to know that every October, the weeklong effort known as “Compassion Week” has continued to grow exponentially here in our Los Altos community for nearly a decade. Operated in partnership with multiple local faith communities, including our own St. Nicholas & St. William Catholic Parish, the Los Altos Mountain View Community Foundation, Fremont Bank, and now County of Santa Clara Supervisor Joe Simitian, Compassion Week encourages individuals, families, and groups to engage in acts of service for local and global needs. Since its inception in 2013, more than 18,000 volunteers of all ages and abilities have participated in Compassion Week activities, supporting over 85 nonprofits.
But this week of compassion is not just about serving the poor and vulnerable. It is a week where compassion is being intentionally cultivated with a clear intent of expanding our understanding and awareness of each other to build a strong and empathetic community that reflects and celebrates how very much alike we all are. In coming together we recognize how we are all hard-wired for compassion, and are called to care for each other as in Ephesians 4:32: “be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.”
So just as God created a blueprint for compassion in our brains, hearts, and bodies, Compassion Week is a blueprint for our community to experience and remember that compassion is a relationship between equals that recognizes our shared humanity – not between the healer and the wounded. True compassion means connecting at our most vulnerable level and demonstrating that every life has the same value in God’s eyes.
The needs in our community are great, but so is our combined ability to help. There are over 100 projects to choose from that allow you to serve AND get to know each other better.
Sign-up now to serve at siliconvalleyvolunteers.org for Compassion Week!
reflection by Pat Cremer