Monday, September 10, 2012

Compassion in action

The Glove in the Subway Story

The improviser is in training to learn how to “take care of his partner” and to develop a mind that is looking out for the welfare of others.  How do we behave when we aren’t only thinking about ourselves? Today I heard a story that illustrates what this looks like in everyday life.

Connie Moffit, a Buddhist and community activist (and one of my former Stanford graduate students) gave a moving talk at the Happiness Conference 2012 in Seattle.  At the end of her thoughtful explanation of how mindfulness can be a path to realistic and compassionate thinking, she tells this story.

A number of years ago the New York Times featured a Wednesday column that offered eyewitness stories of things that were “quintessentially New York.”  Connie remembered reading the report of an event witnessed in an uptown Manhattan subway station.  A woman who had just gotten off an incoming subway train stopped on the platform when she noticed that she was holding only one of her leather gloves.  Turning back to the train, which was still on the platform, she saw the other glove sitting on the seat inside.  The doors were just in the moment of closing.  Without hesitation the woman threw the glove she had back into the train where it landed next to its mate.  Now the two gloves were together. 

Connie labeled this action an example of “impersonal satisfaction.”  I wonder how many of us would even consider such a response.  What a good example of mindfulness and compassion in action.  Thanks, Connie.