Ripples #887: The Challenge of Compassion.
May 23, 2016
There are so many ways of being despicable it quite makes one’s head spin. But the way to be really despicable is to be contemptuous of other people’s pain.
―James Baldwin, shared by David in Cincinnati, OH
Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.
—Henri Nouwen, shared by Pete in Sedona, AZ
Compassion is *not* for beginners since it moves beyond mere passion (feeling strongly), polite sympathy (feeling sorry), or even deep empathy (attempting to understand the feelings of another). We need those as a human relations starter kit of course, but in order to fully move into the realm of compassion, we need to advance towards actually *feeling* what another soul is feeling. Fully actualized compassion also includes cultivating a desire to help someone, and daring to act on that desire. Compassion requires a deeper sense of personal, spiritual, and/or metaphysical connection to another being.
As we advance further into yet another presidential election cycle, my sense is that there are more and more people who hold less and less regard for the “other side.” I’m concerned that we have nearly depleted any remaining reserves of trust and respect for people who hold opposing opinions on important issues, as well as those who care significantly MORE or LESS than we do about a particular topic.
While many of us claim to value compassion as a virtue, we also tend to be much more generous in sharing compassion among our friends and family than we are towards strangers and those we perceive as foes. On one level, it seems logical to prioritize those we already know and care about. On a deeper level, I’m concerned we are reducing the overall amount of safety and comfort available in the world; it seems we may have inadvertently slipped into the habit of reserving compassion for those within our closer circles and offering only contempt and maybe a dollop of pity to others.
This week, let’s keep our eyes open for signs of authentic humanity that surely exists within those we are in conflict with. See if you can recognize and acknowledge any goodness you identify. It might not feel right for every situation, and you can always resume a more protective or aggressive mode if that feels necessary. I’m only hoping we will generate a small, measurable increase in the amount of compassion we collectively unleash–then we can observe what ripply magic expands outward from there.
The Ripples Guy
p.s. Thanks for reading Ripples today. It matters to me that this matters to you.