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Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he had been asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child. The winner was a 4-year-old child whose next-door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife.

Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy joined the old gentleman in his garden, climbed onto his lap and sat there.

When his mother asked him what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said: "Nothing. I just helped him cry."

Compassion is at the heart of every little thing we do. It is the dearest quality we possess. Yet all too often, it can be cast aside, with consequences too tragic to speak of. To lose our compassion, we lose what it is to be human.

Although compassion seems to be a waning art these days, we can choose to show it to others through kindness. Kindness should not be confused with weakness. Quite the opposite, kindness demonstrates basic decency and respect that reflect a willingness to get along with someone, even when you disagree with them.

Contrary to the common saying, nice people can often do finish first. No one wants to work with or do business with someone who treats them rudely or disrespectfully.

It's a funny thing about kindness: The more it's used, the more you have. The smallest act of kindness can have a significant impact on a person's life.

Other things to show compassion:

Simply listen carefully and without judgment. Listening can be hard work, and some people are more challenging to listen to than others. But if you want people to listen to you, you need to listen to them.

Encourage people. Offering compliments based on a person's character or actions inspires them to perform in such a manner that it invites additional praise. Encouragement is oxygen to the soul.

Give forgiveness. Forgiving someone ultimately makes you stronger. A nationwide Gallup poll found that 94% of those surveyed said it was important to forgive. Yet in the same survey, only 48% said they usually tried to forgive others.

I don't think a single person can escape life without being hurt by another person. That's as true in business as in every other phase of life. Everyone, and I mean everyone, messes up, hurts others, finds fault, misjudges and acts emotionally and improperly from time to time at the expense of others. It is far better to forgive and forget than to resent and remember.

Express gratitude and appreciation. Saying thank you — and meaning it — is never a bad idea. It appeals to a basic human need to be appreciated. It sets the stage for the next pleasant encounter. And it helps keep in perspective the importance of receiving and giving help.

Be patient. The world today is testing everyone's patience. And we have never needed it more. Patience is an invaluable virtue, but it takes some work. We live in a world where we are used to getting things quickly, including information or products. This impatient attitude can cause a lot of harm — unproductive time, stress, poor decisions and more.

Research shows that when we feel compassion, our heart rate slows and we secrete the bonding hormone oxytocin, which results in people wanting to care for other people.

Maybe that's why compassionate people live longer. Who doesn't want that?

Mackay's Moral: Helping someone up won't pull you down.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail