*(Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was not able to post this yesterday. Better late than never!)*
“Sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.
‘the victims should be treated with compassion’
from Old French
from Late Latin compassiō fellow feeling,
from compatī to suffer with,
from Latin com- with + patī to bear, suffer”
Compassion. You hear a lot about it. It is an attractive word emotionally, these days. It is a feel-good word, one that evokes feelings of admiration in the one who attributes it to someone, and a sense of pride and accomplishment in the one to whom it is attributed.
It’s sorta like a modern feel good girl-scout merit badge…wait, did Charissa just say that? Now that is not a compassionate thing to say!!
Unless it is, because it serves to deliver from a greater pain in the future.
Here is the troubling thing to me, as we are seeking to unpack this word and let it take on form and substance, as we seek to bring about “the Incarnation of Compassion”. We have far too often stopped at the first part of the definition of the word, and have utterly disregarded the origin of it…that part that talks about “suffering with”, or “bearing suffering with”.
Compassion is not about the one who has it. It is about the one for whom the feeling is born.
And too much compassion is a dangerous thing, because it gets in its own way.
After all, if you actually see your neighbor down the street, are moved to compassion, let the word become Incarnate within you, then you will take action and your time and energy will be consumed to the extent that your ability to have actual compassion (complete with action) will be severely curtailed commensurate with what you expend in this action.
I want to write, in the midst of this sparkling wonder of a snowstorm of exquisite flakes of compassion, to remind us that compassion is about someone other than the haver of it! The mere presence of the feelings commonly called compassion are actually closer to “pity” unless we do something about those feelings.
And that is why I have titled this post “The Evil of Too Much Compassion”…it becomes a little blue pill that we swallow to assuage the pain that comes when we feel compassion and then take no action. The alternative action is to simply read about more heart breaking things and feel more compassion, and then to read about more and feel more, and more, and…
…well, finally, we have become so compassionate that we are creating and attending “compassion rallies” and we are so stirred up about all the things we do that show how compassionate we are that we become very adept at dodging the homeless people laying in the streets and wrapped in rags and cold.
We are Houdinis of news aggregation. We are becoming so broadminded, so large hearted, that we think that rights and privileges should be shared freely…to people of all sexual and gender orientation…and then we read of the murder of the seventh transgender woman this year.
Yes…in the first seven weeks of 2015, seven transgender women have been murdered…and these murders are scattered about the nation, they have nothing else in common save for the gender orientation of the women…and we feel…what?
Compassion? Really? Did we feel moved to the point that we chose to “bear suffering with?” What form did your action take, when you read of that horror?
Look, the fact is that if you remove the “trans” part and look at this string of murders in the way that most murders are viewed, it would seem the work of a very scary, very mobile serial killer who strikes with no rhyme or reason and could kill you next. There would be an outrage and our police force would stir itself in paroxysms of action to hunt down and stop a monster who would kill women at the rate of one a week…sort of a twisted demented “communion supper” offered to death and defilement!
But no…it is not done that way, because compassion for a transgender woman who is killed is not quite the appropriate emotion, because she may have been out late, or at a bar, or she may not have told the murderer yet that she was trans, or she may have told him she was trans and thus deserved to be murdered, or she may have been interested in sexual activity with an attractive partner or she may have refused sexual activity or…
…well, she is transgender for god’s sake, surely she must have known she shouldn’t just walk around trans and not hide it (or is it tell about it and broadcast so as not to “deceive”, or is it try harder to pass, or is it that she tried too hard and thus looked like a parody of a “real woman”, or…or…ad infinitum).
We get very good at letting our eyes skim over the words in today’s latest story of woe to suck out the juice to slake our thirst to feel good about ourselves…and then not take action lest we limit ourselves in our hunt for more to feel compassionate about.
If compassion is not more than a feeling, then it is not compassion at all.
It is pride.
This day of compassion may or may not be that…it is up to you.
Mother Teresa once said something about this sort of thing. She was in the gutter with a leper who had fouled herself with the loss of bowel control, and she was besmirched in the woman’s filth. A passerby who was well off stopped and rebuked her, asking her what possible difference she was making in the world.
“Look around you!” he exclaimed. “There are millions and billions of people suffering at this very second! Your life here is wasted and your efforts are in vain!”
Mother Teresa looked up calmly at the man, and then she said this:
“I am not called to serve millions and billions…I am called to serve this one.” She turned back to her little lamb, to tend her in her suffering, and the man walked away stunned, baffled.
But never fear, Constance…because he was very very sad about all the millions and billions of people who are suffering in this world…very sad indeed.
And he simply didn’t know how he would be able to go on with this burden, so he prayed that his already expansive “compassionate” heart would be stretched and expanded even further so he could feel that feeling…
…the one that proved what a fine fellow he truly was.
Highways…byways…lost lambs…get you there and let your feelings of pity be transformed in the crucible of suffering into true gold compassion.
Do Justice. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly…live compassionately.
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