If you spend any time reading the news, you might agree that our world could use a little more compassion. A Latin phrase coined nearly 700 years ago, “com pati,” was formed by the French into a verb to imply empathy, to suffer with someone. By the latter 1500s, the verb degenerated into a weak noun that implied nothing more than “sympathy.”
Four hundred-fifty years later, not much has changed. Or has it? As dark as things may sometimes seem, there are inspirational moments that offer hope and encouragement.
This past summer, I attended a Michigan Association for Pupil Transportation conference titled “Making It Matter – Leadership, Learning, and Compassion” that included student transportation directors from around the state. The goal of the event was to ensure that attendees were treating the title like a verb, rather than a noun — to model compassion in action.
During the course of the conference, one transportation supervisor, Jacquie, shared a humbling and dramatic story about one of her employees named Roger that exemplified our theme.
Her employee was a crusty 68-year-old retired engineer turned school bus driver with a curmudgeon-like personality and long white hair. Roger was leaving the school bus garage for the day when he stopped by Jacquie’s office and yelled, “Hey! Boss-lady!” (a curmudgeon’s way of conveying kindness). “I just want you to know … I love you.” (Translated: “Thanks for being a great boss; I respect and appreciate all you do for me.”)
Jacquie rushed to Roger’s side as he lay motionless on the road. She gently laid her hands on his bleeding head. … She told him to breathe. Told him to hang on. Told him she cared about him.
While students on his bus loved him, previous supervisors in his other career looked down on him for his bluntness and coarse exterior. But not Jacquie. She treated Roger (and all her drivers) with respect, responding with an equally enthusiastic “I love you, too, Roger! I hope you have a wonderful night.” Roger beamed as he left her office to mount his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and rode away.
Mere moments later, another bus driver frantically called Jacquie. She was screaming into the phone for Jacquie to hurry; Roger had just been hit by a motorist who had turned in front of him. Jacquie flew out of the office to her car and down the road; emergency personnel hadn’t even arrived yet.
Jacquie rushed to Roger’s side as he lay motionless on the road. She gently laid her hands on his bleeding head; he was in obvious pain. She told him to breathe. Told him to hang on. Told him she cared about him. Roger mumbled something, she couldn’t tell what, before emergency crews arrived to begin their work.
Sadly, Roger did not survive the crash; he died a short time later. Jacquie’s compassion and encouraging words were the last gifts Roger received this side of eternity. She had turned compassion into an action verb.
Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once said that there are over 4 billion people on the earth who go to bed hungry every night … for an honest word of appreciation; they need kindness and compassion. If we focused on extending as much to others each day, who knows of the suffering we may help erase. Better to write our own epitaph onto the hearts and lives of others as we put compassion into action on a daily basis.