The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another ~ Thomas Merton
I fear that I am becoming numbed by the incredible volume of bad news that I am exposed to every day. I read about a recent death in Iraq and though I feel a general sorrow, I fail to grasp the true impact as this one death ripples outward to family, friends, and loved ones. Listening to the radio as I drive I hear of an accident on a nearby freeway and my first reaction is to calculate how this may adversely effect my commute rather than to think about the welfare of the victims. And I wonder if there are any bounds of decency when I learn of the latest atrocity committed in the pursuit of ever more money – how many more Madoffs are out there lurking?
Survival in the ancient world meant that we had to watch out for number one first and foremost – our lives depended upon it. A little selfishness was a good thing if you hoped to return home after the Mastadon hunt! But in our modern society everything we do impacts those around us. If I take something it is not available for someone else. So it is important that we live together and that we are concerned about the welfare of others.
What does it take to feel compassion for another?
Put myself in their shoes – if I were in a similar spot/situation/condition, how would I hope to be treated? Back to the old “do unto others” again. I visited a local coffee shop last week and as I entered I noticed a man in a wheel chair apparently suffering from some form of muscular dystrophy. I said hi to him as I passed and he responded in like kind. On my way out I wished him a good day and with his head slightly tilted as it rested on his chest he said “don’t do anything I wouldn’t do”. Would I have the courage in that situation to respond with such a quip? With most people self-consciously looking the other way rather than meeting eyes, how lonely must he sometimes feel. How would I feel?
Realize that others have different points of view – I view the world and those in it in my own peculiar way based on all that I have learned and experienced through my lifetime. Others have different experiences and different points of view. No one is right or wrong but being aware of these differences may help me to better understand my fellow humans and perhaps act with sensitivity.
Give a damn – the world we live in is full of people with real needs. Sure there are those who game the system and illegally collect welfare or unemployment and others who solicit you with their sign as you stop at a busy intersection. But most are legitimately in need. There is no shortage of stories of lost jobs and foreclosed homes by previously successful families – many of us know of others experiencing this firsthand. Homelessness for many is an unfortunate and previously unimagined reality. Pride must take a back seat to keeping a family afloat. My dad always says “there but for the grace of God go I”.
Is compassion dead?
For all of the horror stories there are still morsels of hope. Some individuals are willing to do a little extra, some are willing to to a lot. There is nothing unique or special about these people – they just decide to genuinely care and take steps to do something, anything they can to help.
It is up to all of us to be compassionate in our individual lives.
I believe that although it may sometimes hibernate, compassion is very much still alive and well. And it is up to me to keep it breathing!