Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The True Nature of Compassion [Podcast]

Have you ever had an experience where you tried to do something good for someone else but ended up feeling worse? Ever felt empathy towards someone in such a way that it hurt? Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Wrecked Sessions

True compassion doesn’t leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. True compassion breaks your heart and leaves you feeling helpless. And the reason for this is because true compassion requires you to step outside of yourself.

This week, we return to Wrecked Sessions (a limited-time podcast I’m doing to continue conversation around my book, Wrecked). In this episode, we interview my friend and colleague Talia Bunting and talk about how messy helping others can be.

Listen to the podcast

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Subscribe in iTunes | Listen in a new window | Download

About our guest

Talia and I worked together for a number of years at Adventures in Missions, but we originally met on a mission trip to Mexico many years ago. Together on that trip, we experienced a “wrecked” moment when we met a homeless woman on the streets of Palenque, Mexico.

This woman was clearly mentally disabled — she kept talking about her mustache and couldn’t remember her name. We tried to offer her water and bread, but she wouldn’t take any of it. We prayed for it and walked away. And as we did, our hearts broke.

Only a few steps away from the Nameless Woman, Talia broke down and started crying, saying, “I feel so helpless!”

In this episode, we explore with our guest the pain we all feel when we have to walk away from a need we aren’t able to meet — and how sometimes, that’s just the beginning of the story.

Show highlights

In this podcast, we talk about:

  • Why doing good often feels bad
  • The stupidity of the cliche, “plant a seed”
  • When we feel helpless to do anything for someone else (and what to do about it)
  • The messiness of ministry and how sometimes our only choice is to walk away from needs
  • How our guest learned more about compassion by working in a bar than she ever did in the mission field

Get involved

If you liked this podcast, here are some other ways to get involved:

Have you ever experience true compassion? Have you ever felt helpless to meet someone else’s needs? Share your story in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

Ever Wonder If Your Blog Post Is Good Enough?

We built a free tool so you don’t have to worry about that ever again.

1. Pick your goal of the post
2. Answer 5 basic questions
3. It tells you if it’s good enough and how to make it better

Click here to use the tool.

  • It’s interesting what you said about people trying to turn the suffering they witness into a blog post right away – like that’s the first gut reaction.

    I’ve tried to write about watching my father die from cancer, and the year I spent caring for him, but still can’t (he passed away in December) – writing about it wasn’t an immediate reaction. There was a lot of disbelief of what I experienced, a lot of helplessness – a lot to process before I could even begin to write about it, other than in a journal.

    I remember something Lisa Swayze said in her book, Worth Fighting For, about Patrick Swayze’s battle with cancer – she said it took her about a year to even begin to write about it – she had to wait until the experience wasn’t so close to the surface. And I think that’s accurate when it comes to being wrecked by an experience. There’s a period of allowing yourself to feel that discomfort of compassion first. If you immediately try to jump into writing some epic blog post about it, then you’re missing the point of being wrecked. I think you have to allow the experience to affect you first. The blog post or book can come later when you’ve actually allowed yourself to be changed.

  • Aimee Sanchez

    I have felt helpless many times when I couldn’t help someone, but God has used those times to remind me to give them to Him. Sometimes it’s my job to pray and hand it over to the only one who can really help. He sees where people are going and maybe my helping in the way I think wouldn’t help but hinder that persons growth.

  • I experience that helpless feeling often as a pastor’s wife. There are far more needs than I can meet.

  • mamak1118

    Just before opening your email about the podcast, I opened an email from a student whose mother is sick (dying) from cancer. I hate to say she’s dying because I don’t think this girl has used that word to describe it just yet. Anyway, her message just said, “Kristi, I feel so helpless, can’t even focus on my studies, I don’t know why I’m sending this type of email to you…” She sounds so small and lost. I just wish I could reach out and hold her because she is so desperately sad. But the only thing I can do is let her know I’m here and praying for her and her mom. I feel like I’ve been given the opportunity to help somebody and there’s nothing I can do to help! It’s all so sad. What I AM going to do is listen to your podcast.

  • Jeff, thanks for sharing this podcast. I was so moved, I wrote about it. I have the book sitting on my table at home. When I get home, it will go to the top of the pile. I see below that another teacher – mamak1118 – also struggles with knowing how to help. I think this is one of the biggest struggles we educators have. We see so many needy young people; we’re expected to do so many things for them, while the most important thing seems beyond us. It’s frustrating. But as I wrote, I hope to pick myself up so I can be ready to be there for the next person I can’t help…


  • Small typo in the question. Experience should be experienced. I feel helpless every time there’s a school shooting or another huge tornado.

  • taylor

    Backing up your computer is one of the most important things you can do. You never know when your hard drive might break or become infected by a malicious and destructive virus. Backing up your computer can be very easy if you ensure that you get the right tool for the job. bestbackupsoftwares

  • taylor

    The Google phone came and went, however the new Android enabled devices and of course the Apple iPhone are here to stay, so what is next? bestmobilephonebrand

  • taylor

    Managed blog hosting is a type of hosting where the hosting company takes care of the installation and maintenance of blogging scripts for the customers. If you want to create a blog and do not know how to install and maintain the blogging script, managed blog hosting is the best way to go. bloghostingproviders