Is there an imaginative component to compassion? There will be times when the suffering of the other person is not known to us and is only evident by their negative behavior. Can you imagine a compassion that acts upon that person’s capacity to suffer and not just an apparent suffering?
Is it too far fetched to choose compassion before knowing what pain and suffering drives another person, so that my responses are based upon a compassion not dependent on their obvious brokenness? This will mean that my compassion becomes not only intentional but also costly. It means that I will need the imagination to see what cannot be seen, to react to what I do not know… I will need to imagine the need for my compassion.
“None knows the weight of another’s burden.”
Father George Herbert
Can you imagine a world of people who are deserving of your compassion? Can you imagine a world full of hurting people who are hurting others, and deserving of your compassion? Can you imagine the transformative power of a compassion that is freely given before the burden is known?
Perhaps that imaginative component of compassion is nothing other than love, a love that yearns to see the best for a person, in a person, even when they are at their worst. I can surely imagine that I need that kind of compassion here and there along my own journey.
Why don’t you take a few moments to hop on that site and give a few thumbs up to the words you think are best representative of the opposite of compassion? And think about the ways that compassion’s opposites work out in our daily lives…
I would guess that few people wake in the morning and say, “Think I’ll sharpen up my barbarity, today!” or “It’s a beautiful day for apathy!” And yet, many of us will do exactly those things. We will be apathetic about the suffering of people near us and far from us. We’ll act like barbarians. Need proof? Just hop on a news site, any news site, and read a story like the recent road rage tragedy in Arizona, as we roam the streets screaming at one another and brandishing guns. This to so tragic and sad.
We allow life’s hurts and disappointments to starve out our compassion and feed the apathy and the inhumanity in us that leads to suffering in our lives and the lives of people around us. Fear, anger, biases, frustrations, fatalism and indignations feed our cruelty and our indifference. These well-fed emotions and negative spiritual movements within us translate into action and inaction, and to suffering.
Today, grab onto an intention to choke off those negatives streams. Work to dam up the flow of anger, fear and frustration. Work to free the streams of awareness and empathy for the people around you. Feed the love. Here’s some compassionate things to do that will help choke off the negative, some good starting steps:
- Pray for God’s help to see people’s beauty.
- Begin to forgive someone who has hurt you. Take beginning steps to forgive, even if you just start with imagining what life might be like after forgiveness takes place.
- Listen to someone you don’t agree with and try to understand their side of an issue or an argument… at least try to relate to their feelings and values.
- Spend a day intentionally rejecting the harsh and negative rants and memes that clog our social media streams and divide us against each other.
- Be honest and face one of your strongest prejudices with an intention to lessen that hostility and find goodness in those people.
You might have noticed that I didn’t say, “take baby steps.” We aren’t babies. We’re grown adults with intelligence and volition. We should be mature and able to reflect on the good and the bad in life, and choose the good. We should be able to recognize the destructiveness of the negative and choose the positive. We don’t take or need to take baby steps. We need to take the starting steps and the ongoing steps of thoughtful engaged adults.
When we feed our compassion we starve the cruelty and apathy. That’s a fast track to a better brighter you, a better brighter me, and a better brighter world.
On the second day of looking into compassion, it’s worth a few moments of time to look at some common synonyms for compassion. As I think about compassion, my mind goes to people who have been compassionate with me. I see faces and hands, the touch of friends and family who have seen me sick or hurting and moved to help me. I can even think of some who have seen me at my worst, heard me at my worst, maybe have been hurt by my words and actions, and yet still viewed me with eyes of compassion and responded to me with healing.
Dictonary.com synonyms: “commiseration, mercy, tenderness, heart, clemency”
Dictonary.com word origin: “from Old French, from Late Latin compassiō fellow feeling, from compatī to suffer with“
We’re taking a moment with Dictionary.com again to think about both the synonyms and the root of our word compassion. There is an inescapable mutuality within compassion. Compassion, as an active mercy, a realized tenderness, or a state of the heart, is a connective mercy translated into relationship between us. It’s that fellow feeling or the suffering with of the old French and Latin. Compassion is a connection between us.
Could it be that someone doesn’t have to be terribly suffering or hurting to benefit from our compassion? Or at least not suffering more than is common to daily life? Can’t our tenderness and mercy be a daily gift to those around us regardless of their immediate condition of pain and suffering? How much suffering and hurt would be avoided in the world if we made compassion a preemptive strike against loneliness, ridicule and rejection? If the old axiom true that hurting people hurt people, then we might also accept the idea that healed people heal people. If we live in such daily mutuality, would we not want to add to the positive flow of compassion more than the negative flow of judgment, apathy or disregard?
I can’t resist plugging in what might be my favorite words of St. Paul the Apostle…
“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” Philippians 4:5
I pray that the evidence of our lives, the record of our passing through this world, is a littered trail of healed people, mended hearts and compassionate touches. May our compassion and our commitment to one another be driving forces which guide our words and actions, this day and every day. Amen.
I invite you to join me on a journey through Lent exploring an intention to live a greater compassion in this life. The world needs this from us. We’ll start with several days of exploring what compassion means, and then hear from voices though all the times and places of the earth who have taught us and shown us what compassion looks like in life. We’ll do this for the 40 days of Lent, Sundays being excluded from this exercise and set aside for worship and sabbath rest.
Dictionary.com tells us that compassion is “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.”
Have you ever thought of compassion as not just a feeling, but a drive to act? Compassion is not just noticing that someone is suffering, and feeling bad for them, but it includes an awakening of our imagination and soul to act on alleviating their suffering. We begin this time of intention with a hope that our souls become not only more aware of the suffering of others, but that we learn to dream and act in creative and hopeful service to those who suffer.