“Compassion is a verb.” Thich Nhat Hanh
The renowned Vietnamese monk and author Thich Nhat Hanh is not rewriting the rules of grammar here. Instead, I believe he’s conveying something much more important to us as writers: He’s inviting us to remember that bringing compassion to our work is what enlivens it and allows us to connect with our reader.
As fiction writers, playwrights, or poets, we must find ways to inhabit our characters lives – to understand why they feel compelled to do what they do. And to share what we’ve learned with our readers without judgment, without condemning them. As journalists, we look for stories that reveal human behavior in all its many forms. And, as memoirists we must plunge boldly into the tangled and sometimes tortured territory of the human heart and bring back what we’ve learned – both the painful and the glorious.
Think about the writers that you love, the ones you go back to again and again because they have something to tell you that you need to know. It’s more than likely that you feel drawn to them because of the clear-eyed, but open-hearted way they share the stories they’ve created or witnessed. How can we bring more compassion to the page?
We can remember that our job is to understand, not judge, the characters we bring to life.
We can remind ourelves that confusion and cruelty are part of the human condition.
We can see ourselves in our characters and treat them as we’d want to be treated.
We can look for the reasons that compell forward motion and shine a light on them.
We can act upon the wise reminder, “What comes from the heart goes to the heart.”
When we tell our stories from a place of kindness and caring, however difficult, we give our readers permission to bring those same qualities to the page. And when reader, writer, and the people we create or describe all share this bond — this striving to see and understand with an open heart — then we are all enriched and enlivened. Let’s remember that in the grammar of the heart, compassion is a verb. And then let’s all write on.
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