Compassion is a Choice

 

It is profoundly difficult to be as cynical as I am and manage to write a compelling post about compassion.

Sometimes I fear I have none.  What if I dive into the deep, tranquil waters of the most empathetic pools in the oasis of my soul, and emerge empty-handed, except for the skeletal remains of that fish from Finding Nemo that lures unsuspecting prey into its jaws with that little dangly uvula-light?

Some days I feel pretty good that I haven’t killed and eaten anyone.  Does that count?

The thing about compassion is, like most virtues – it’s painless to preach.  Just spend five minutes on the interwebs, facebook in particular – count each poignant meme, each quote from Gandhi, from Mother Teresa, from Bob Marley….one love, baby.

But before you do – get a job.  Pay your own way.  If you don’t want to be in that abusive relationship, why don’t you just leave? If you really wanted a better future, the opportunity is there – don’t hide behind your sex, your race, your religion – we all have the same opportunity.  If you didn’t want to be a single mother, you should have been more careful.  If you are going to choose to be openly homosexual, you have to expect a societal consequence.  If you don’t want attention, why are you wearing that?  If your kid can’t behave, leave him at home or learn how to parent.  Let us tell you what you could be doing to deserve our compassion.

Which is missing the point, entirely.

Preaching is easy.  Practice is harder.  Compassion is not born of charity.  It is born of empathy.  The purest form of compassion is how we behave when it would be easier for us to make another choice.

So yes – pay it forward.  Feed the homeless.  Give to charity.  All of those things are admirable, and important.

But this is the challenge I would propose to myself, and to you:  As some point, someone will stumble into our path, someone who seems so different from us that we may be repelled.  It may be a theological difference, a political disparity.  Sex, race, sexual orientation or identity.  Income, culture, or maybe – you just don’t like them.

What if, just once, you consciously made a different choice?  What if, instead of making assumptions and passing judgement, you tried to see where you were similar, rather than how you were different?

I just asked my ten-year old son what compassion means.  After several suspicious seconds, where he tried to determine if he was being tested, he said, “It’s when you treat someone like you’d want to be treated, even if they are different from you.”

Seems like it would be just as easy for us to grasp that simple truth, no?

 

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