The Language of Compassion: Speak Low, Speak Love

The language of compassion helps me feel that we are all in this together. Whether I speak it or hear it, something magical happens. Perhaps the why of it isn’t terribly mysterious. For one, there is some science behind it.

The science behind kindness and compassion

Studies claim that kindness produces serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin, lowering blood pressure and reducing anxiety. This emboldens us to tear down our protective walls and let the sunshine in. Listening to music can increase these feel-good hormones. Antidepressants called SSRIs also increase serotonin, calming us and quieting our thoughts. Whether by choice or by drug, compassion creates harmony, a place where the individual can feel part of something bigger. Before there was modern science, though, cosmologists offered their own take.

Harmony

Medieval philosophers insisted that being in harmony with the world comes from a celestial alignment of the planets. This produces an imperceptible sound which then thrums inside us, inducing the heart to beat in tandem with it. Called the Music of the Spheres, the music (or hum) is a mathematical concept rather than the audible variety. Yet religion precedes early physics as the source of compassion. Believers see kindness and love as proof that God not only resides outside the physical world but also dwells within it, and within us.

Whatever unseen force propels the expression of compassion and kindness, the words themselves always heal, redeem, and refresh. Universally speaking, what sounds pleasing, feels pleasing. Why then, isn’t there more of it?

Why aren't people more compassionate?

People are complicated. That isn’t meant as a criticism, we can’t help it. We possess a mixed bag of contradictions, inconsistent behaviors and feelings trundled into the boot of a living human vehicle. What is behind the wheel can vary at any given moment, but it seems that often, mood is the principal driver. Since mood is so changeable, it can suddenly steer us in a different direction.

Here’s an example

Early in the day, a woman talks to her sister on the phone while her four children play noisily nearby. Her nerves are shot from the noise, and she’s still hurting from a fight with her husband before he left for work. Lately, she feels a lack of sensitivity from everyone she’s close to. She is worried sick about her sister’s well-being, as sis is a battered wife and has only taken the woman into her confidence.

A troubled outburst

Worried, shaken, and angry, her babysitter finally arrives and she can go to the grocery store. In the parking lot, she spies a woman without a trace of disability walking away from her car in a handicapped space. Suddenly the unfairness of life wells up and she screams at the (she thinks) faking-being-disabled woman, threatening to call the police for depriving a for-real-suffering person of a handicapped space. She’s not a callous, mean person, just a troubled one. So how do we change this? Is it even possible?

People with MS can feel battered and defeated

We can’t change the past, of course. But we have tomorrows that can provide an opportunity for a do-over. People with MS can feel battered and defeated after so many insensitive encounters with the cluelessly-abled. But we can pull ourselves out of our own sorrows and try to see the pain behind the anger of the person screaming at us in the parking lot, too.

Language of compassion

What is the language of compassion? Speak low and speak love. Here is a song lyric that is meaningful to me and I hope it will touch you in some way. Though it is about romantic love, I feel that it is ultimately about the brevity of life and the urgency of being loving in each moment.

“Speak Low” (1943) Music by Kurt Weill, Lyric by Ogden Nash, from the Broadway musical "One Touch of Venus."

Speak low, when you speak, love,

Our summer day withers away,

Too soon, too soon.

Speak low when you speak, love,

Our moment is swift, like ships adrift,

We're swept apart too soon.

Speak low, darling speak low,

Love is a spark lost in the dark,

Too soon, too soon,

I feel wherever I go,

That tomorrow is near, tomorrow is here,

And always too soon.

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