The Foundation of Compassion

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Most, if not all, of the people I know believe that one of the core purposes of this life is to love and care for other people. Just post on Facebook that someone you know has cancer, and the outpouring of kindness will be overwhelming. It even extends beyond humans. Just two days ago we watched out the window as someone kicked a dog out of his car and sped away. We took him in and posted who-wants-a-dog alerts all over the internet. The outpouring of desire to help this dog was remarkable. Today, just 48 hours later, he’s in a great home with two other rescue dogs and parents that were about as excited to take him as if he were a human baby.

I used to believe that one needed a strong religious faith in order to live an unselfish life. But I don’t believe that at all anymore. For me, compassion springs from shared humanity…complete with shared confusion, frustration, remorse, anger, unexplained joy, and intolerable loss. I used to feel compassion for people because I believed they were “lost.” Now I believe we are all lost. And my compassion for others feels far more genuine: I don’t feel sorry for them because they need something they don’t have. Actually, I do feel sorry for them, but I also feel sorry for me. Life is confusing; the road maps are hard to read; we’re all somewhat lost.

My friend, Brad, was telling me about parenting his 2-year-old daughter, who, by definition, is, well, possessed. Like any parent of a 2-year-old, he struggles to keep his cool when she throws a tantrum about wanting to wear un-matched shoes or because the $.25 toy dished out by the machine is the wrong color. But recently, he had an aha moment: He realized that being 2 is hard. It’s hard to be incapable of expressing what you want to say; it’s hard to have emotions that you don’t know how to manage; it’s hard to make sense of a world that seems..that is…unfair. By seeing his daughter as a human who is dealing with a difficult situation it changed the way he interacted with his daughter. And not surprisingly, it also changed the way she responded to him when in the midst of a tantrum.

I think that my lifelong battle with my mental health has made me have a heightened awareness that people might be (are) suffering from hidden demons that might be making life very, very hard for them. Somehow, I’m a mixture of the most judgmental person and the most compassionate person you’ll ever meet. I tell people that, in practice, I’m the least compassionate person around – quick to let others know what morons they are if given the chance. But in theory, I’m as compassionate as they come. If I sit and think about it for long, I can give Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer grace because I’m sure they had plenty of private struggles. I don’t know what the point of this paragraph is other than to say that I’m pretty bad at practicing what I’m preaching. BUT I feel a great need for all of us to practice this compassionate lifestyle.

3 thoughts on “The Foundation of Compassion

  1. I love this. With all the school shootings that have been happening I often find myself wondering how horrible the shooter’s life must have been for him to commit such an atrocity. And then I feel compassion for him because he must have gone through unimaginable paid and misery. And then I feel guilty for feeling compassion for someone who just murdered a bunch of kids. And then I realize that sometimes life is shitty we all lose fair and square (or not so fair and square).

    1. I have the very same mixed feelings, Jaime. Today all over Facebook has been the swimmer rapist and people are calling him a monster. In one sense I understand that; in another sense I think he needs to be disciplined but also rehabilitated if possible. I find people’s loathing of criminals somewhat horrifying. I wish there could be more of a love the person but hate the action response. Maybe I’m just too damn soft.

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