Chapter 6.8 Compassion


“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)    German Theoretical Physicist

This guy was more than a physicist.

At first, I really hadn’t considered compassion as a necessary positive attribute, but during my readings, it seems that most religions and philosophies list Compassion for others as a major tenet. Let’s break it down … passion originally meant suffering and enduring before it came to mean a strong-liking. Com- means together. So com-passion means sympathy for the suffering of others, often including a desire to help … maybe with others. I think the concept of compassion includes the elements of empathy, kindness, and tolerance.

We see people in need. How easy it is to put a label on them. We see starving people in Africa or Asia and we think that they are unintelligent and lazy. We think that they are unwilling to work, looking for a handout. We don’t want to deal with them. It’s like trying to watch Fox News if you are liberal or MSNBC if you are conservative, or some other horror flick. If I don’t see it, it must not exist.

“Compassion will cure more sins than condemnation.”
Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887)    American Congregational Minister

But it does exist. One billion people, 15% of the world’s population, are stuck in extreme poverty (< $1 per day). Another 1.6 billion, 25% of the world’s population, are in moderate poverty (> $1- $2<). Very little aid reaches these people, and what does often just goes to basic survival for a few meals. What the poor really want are the tools to work themselves out of poverty. For them, life truly is difficult. They just need a little help to get over the hump.

“At the most basic level, the key to ending extreme poverty is to enable the poorest of the poor to get their foot on the ladder of development. The development ladder hovers overhead, and the poorest of the poor are stuck beneath it.”
Jeffrey Sachs, American Economist and Writer      End of Poverty

Closer to home for most of us are the homeless. Sure, there are broken-down souls, who lack the strength or the will to carry on. And yes, they may be unable to crack their addictions or their mental disarray. Or they may be someone who has made a few wrong choices that lead them to the streets.

For those of us who have comfortable lives, we may not know how thin the thread between us really is … like one uncovered health crisis.  And let’s face it … more ‘regular’ people are confronting this possibility every day as we hear of recession and layoffs. And many of them did nothing wrong … they paid their bills, but lost their jobs.

“The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy.”
Meryl Streep    American Film Actress,

Compassion is having empathy for others, not hard suspicion. It is giving others the benefit of the doubt and setting an example of the goodness of humanity. It is not looking down your nose at someone, assuming they are less than you.

“Tolerance is giving to every other human being every right that you claim for yourself.”
Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899)    American Statesman and Orator

Each person is leading her own life mission. Each person needs to learn his own life lessons. A simple act of kindness to your fellow man or woman can sometimes make a difference in a person’s life. Certainly an act of kindness can usually never be wrong.

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
Aesop (620 BC-560 BC)     Ancient Greek Fabulist

If you think about it, showing kindness to others is a way of sharing your positive energy. Kindness can be shared with people rich or poor, such as letting someone go before you when you open the door for him at the bank, picking up and returning something that another dropped, helping someone with their bags. Kindness expresses the goodness of all humanity.

“Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.”
Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965)    German Missionary, Theologian, and Philosopher.

Now I know that this kindness stuff can be carried too far. We’ve all been around people who try to be soooo kind that they become annoying. They’re not just trying to help you with something, but to actually do it themselves. If someone says “No” to your kindness, the kind thing to do is to accept their wish. Kindness should be an offer of energy from you and not be a force you place on them.

So be tolerant of another’s weaknesses, have empathy for those who are in need or sorrow, offer kindness to those that want it, and have compassion for all individuals … they are all a part of the greater whole of mankind.

“Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.”
The Philosophy of Civilization,   Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965),   German Missionary, Theologian, and Philosopher


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