Compassion Week Interview with Jeff Goins

I connected with Jeff Goins earlier this year in my quest to learn more about blogging and writing. Jeff writes an impressive blog, offering advice and encouragement to writers.

As I’ve gotten to know Jeff, I started seeing his writing elsewhere, like Relevant Magazine and Relevant’s Reject Apathy.  I’m learning a lot from him! Jeff has a wealth of non-profit experience, and he graciously agreed to an interview for Compassion Week.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Jeff Goins:

I know that you’ve worked for several nonprofits. What has drawn you to work for nonprofit organizations?

I love the idea of being able to make a difference. Working for a paycheck instead of passion has never appealed to me. Plus, it helps me avoid getting a real job.

What is your personal definition of compassion?

I love the literal definition of it: to suffer with. To me, it means more than empathy. Compassion hurts. It offends our comfort. It disrupts our lives.

Do you think you view compassion out of a religious/faith perspective or is compassion something that is a basic human understanding?

I don’t like the word religion. Religion is about people creating systems to work their way into God’s favor. As a Christian, I believe in the power of the Cross — that suffering can be redemptive. I see compassion as a basic human need; we need compassion, and we need to give it. Life is hard. Pain can isolate us, make us feel lonely. We all want to be known by other people. When we share in each other’s sufferings and bear each other’s burdens (which is what I would call “actionable compassion”), we meet this basic human need to connect. So for me, it’s both. I don’t separate my faith from my general worldview.

Do you think compassion is different from being morally good?

Yes, I do. But maybe I also disdain the word morality as much as I loathe the word religion. Compassion may be moral, but it’s not morality. Compassion is messy and causes us to enter messy situations. Morality is subjective; it changes depending on your religious, social, and cultural context (at least a little bit).

For example, if I live in India and encounter someone not in my caste system who is in pain, what do I do? My “moral” framework may obligate me to ignore the person. Compassion requires something else, something that could even cost me my social standing. Compassion call us into relationship with those whom society deems untouchable. Maybe I’m redefining morality in my own terms, but I like to think of compassion as something deep and hard and costly.

What motivates you to be compassionate? How do you practice living compassionately?

Pain. Pain motivates me. There is pain in my life. And I am pretty sure others experience pain, too. I want to treat others how I would like to be treated. And the one thing I always long for in a time of tragedy or suffering is comfort and companionship. How do I practice it? Not well, if I’m being honest. What I try to do is not avoid pain — mine or others. Pain and suffering are uncomfortable. Our first inclination is to avoid them; I acknowledge this and try to press in to the pain.

In your work, do you ever feel overwhelmed by the amount of suffering in the world? If so, how do you cope?

Always. I am right now, as I’m dealing with a humanitarian issue my organization is encountering in Haiti. How do I cope? I pray. I (try to) rest. And I remind myself that my pain and discomfort is small in comparison to how the majority of the world lives. While compassion is exhausting work, I need to recognize that my weariness, while real, is a small sacrifice.

I also try to give myself some perspective. I have food when I’m hungry and food over my head. Relatively speaking, I am rich. My concerns are petty.

What does it look like to have compassion towards someone who you disagree with?

It’s all about perspective. Put yourself in their shoes. Go low. Be humble. For me, that doesn’t come naturally; it’s a discipline. But it often defuses tension and helps you reach clarity.

Thank you again, for taking the time for this interview. For one last question, would you mind sharing a story of a time when you (or your family) experienced compassion from another person?

My wife and I went through a very tough time a few years ago. We didn’t know where to turn. It was difficult to talk about with our families and friends. A small community came around us, spent time with us, and encouraged us. We didn’t talk about the issue very much, but they were just present.

How did that change you?

It gave me a personal context for why “being there” is often enough.

Thanks, Jeff!

Jeff Goins is a writer and motivator from Nashville, TN. Jeff works with Adventures in Missions and is currently advocating for the rescue of Haitian orphans. You can keep up with Jeff through his blog, facebook, and twitter.


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