Compassion

Leunig  KINDNESS: Never underestimate the ripple effect

Leunig KINDNESS: Never underestimate the ripple effect

“Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.” (Frederick Buechner)

The word compassion has a beautiful sound to it. For a long time the word has had an ‘onomatopoeic’ association for the author of this humble reflection. He has connected it to a “bell”, a campana. Not only on account of the similarity in sound, but more so because of the visual image of a heart which strikes like a beautiful bell to bring hope to those nearby. Etymologically, compassion, is originally from the Latin: com [with] and pati [to suffer]. It literally means to suffer together with another. Is there anything in the world more valuable and full of potential than comprehending the pain of another and doing whatever we can to relieve that soul of some of its hurt? We look for that moment when we might jump into the water to save a drowning child or to show our courage by pulling out a stranger from a burning car. Yet these situations where great acts of bravery are required, will more likely than not, never be demanded of us. The irony is that every day we can perform such marvellous acts in different and no less significant ways.

To enter into the pain of another, to share in the affliction of my neighbour, to have empathy and then to go beyond it and to do something in response, that is compassion. To come to the aid of another, is a great step forward in our realization of what it means to be truly human. Buddhism teaches that to realize enlightenment there are two qualities which must be developed, these are wisdom and compassion. It is said that in the Qur’an compassion occurs more frequently than any other word. In the Judaeo-Christian scriptures compassion is at the core of its ethical revelation which for many is summarized in the “Golden Rule” of Christ: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 7:12). Compassion is to refuse to give in to hopelessness, not only in our reaching out to another, but also in the very act of loving ourselves. The often misinterpreted German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer has put it succinctly, “Compassion is the basis of all morality”. It is also the seat of love for without it, love is without its flesh.

Compassion can be practised daily, in the ordinary things. If only we could know how many fires of human desperation we could extinguish by these simple and everyday acts. An uplifting letter of support to friend or stranger or better still, to a “foe” who might be suffering; the gift of your coat to somebody who is wet and cold; stepping into a hospital unannounced to ask if you might share some moments with the sick; practising the great art of forgiveness; taking the blame for another who might not possess your strength; stepping over an ant hill on your way to work; giving up your position in the queue to someone in a greater hurry than you; saying sorry when you don’t really have to; helping someone who is unsure cross the busy street; telling a blind man or woman that truly they are beautiful; sending a bouquet of flowers to a random address. Even a knowing smile can save a life. All of these things, this little list of charities which return to the giver a far greater blessing than what is given, have the potential to change lives. This person too, the recipient of your grace, will remember and add to this gift for it will invariably be paid forward.

Often enough compassion might be as simple an act as accepting each other, and understanding that each of us will grow and flourish in different times and in different places.

For others in those extreme places of unfathomable love and grace, compassion might well mean actual identification. As it did for those early missionaries who for the sake of their beloved lepers not only lived together with them in abandoned colonies, but also allowed for themselves to be stigmatized, literally, and to suffer alike in the flesh.

Here is the greatest strength of all, rising above our deepest fears and hidden prejudices. To step into the shoes of the other. There is the beginning.

“My dear Lord, please allow for these words, for these expressions of charity to take on flesh, that my desire to practise compassion becomes real and does not remain hollow. Allow for the eyes of my heart to see the presence of the Creator in each and every hand which might reach out to me.” 

On Being Rejected

“Every time you experience the pain of rejection, absence, or death, you are faced with a choice. You can become bitter and decide not to love again, or you can stand straight in your pain and let the soil on which you stand become richer and more able to give life to new seeds.” (Henri J. M. Nouwen)

http://www.curiositiesbydickens.com/

http://www.curiositiesbydickens.com/

Few things hurt more than the sense or feeling of having been rejected. The pain can enter deep into the bone and marrow and it can ache for a long time, sometimes even a life-time. There are lots of ways which can conspire to make us feel like this: ranging from letters or emails which go unanswered, to losing out on a position for which you were ideally qualified, to being ignored by an old friend on the street, to not being selected in a sporting team, to being dismissed by colleagues and peers, to missing out on the love of a parent, to not having our affection or passion reciprocated. All this hurts, especially if rejection comes from someone we have loved and trusted or looked up to and admired. We are all afraid of rejection. It unconsciously conjures up sickening thoughts of what the word originally meant: “to throw” or “to throw back”. When we experience this emotion we can allow for it to make us feel ‘unloved’ and ‘irrelevant’. It is implied, we are not good, that we are not worthy of the other’s respect or attention and so we are excluded. We are, therefore, made to feel unimportant.

The results of rejection have brought to an end a great number of lives (there is more than one way that we can ‘end’ the life of another), and not surprisingly it is the common denominator to most forms of punishment. Nowadays, we also see this in cyber-bullying and other forms of online terrorizing, which includes the fickleness of ‘friendship’ on Facebook. The fear of rejection, particularly after we having experienced it, can stop us from moving on, it can leave us dead in our tracks. Self-esteem and self-worth can be destroyed. It need not be that way.

Many people from different walks of life have not only been able to rise above numerous rejections, but also to succeed in becoming illuminating signposts. The highest example for those who hold to the Christian faith is Jesus Christ, the GodMan, who was himself “despised” and “rejected” (Isa. 53:3) and during the darkest hours of his life abandoned even by his closest friends (Mk. 14:10-72). Afterwards this rejection would become the cornerstone for the theology of hope and the gift of eternal life (Titus 1:2).

Beethoven, arguably the world’s greatest composer was considered “hopeless” and “lacking in talent” when he was a young man, experiencing plentiful rejections at the hands of prominent music masters. The important lessons of self-belief and determination which he realized along the way would also help him later in life when he continued to compose after he had lost most of his hearing. Beethoven’s grandest work according to many and one of the most played symphonies in the world, Symphony No. 9 (“the Choral”), was composed when he was almost entirely deaf.

What do we learn from such extraordinarily resolute spirits? The lessons are not difficult to understand, and though it takes practice and perseverance to apply them, it can be done. That is, we do not give up; we do not lay down the arms. We refuse to surrender our future to those who might make sport of wounding our dignity. Of course, we are not Christ, and we might not possess the brilliance of Beethoven, yet both in their own very unique way were deeply and profoundly immersed in the potentials and possibilities of our shared humanity.

Rejection does not mean we are failures, often enough it might mean that we are different and “stand-out”. Being marginalized forces us to discover other ways to approach those things which we genuinely desire, and to reconsider afresh who and what truly matter. We learn that to be rejected does not define our identity or determine our self-worth (which can only ever be belittled or diminished by self-rejection). We no longer measure ourselves by another’s ‘yardstick’. Individual freedom is also re-defined. There are times, as well, when rejection is sent by providence to protect us from destructive influences. And importantly, we are forced to look more intensely into the great mystery of why we had life breathed into us in the first place.

On Suffering

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (1946).

Léon Bonnat  Job  (C19th).   

Léon Bonnat Job (C19th).

 

One of the most important confirmations that I have taken away after reading Viktor Frankl and from studying his Logotherapy is that we must detach from self-image, the source of our deepest suffering. This does not mean to deny our pain but we must not be consumed by it. It is the same with negative thoughts- do not fight them, let them go. Do not engage with that which cannot be reasoned. Carl Jung taught that ‘individuation’ begins with a “tremendous crisis” and that this is a personal journey. Suffering should be accepted, experienced, and dealt with. This is in refutation to the ‘new agers’ who bid us to go around our pain and not through it. But pain is real whether physical or emotional, and it must be confronted head-on otherwise there can be no resolution. That’s when life begins. Even in the context of childbirth, from here experience and growth come to us day by day, one step at a time. This is the meaning of suffering, to bear and to undergo, literally to carry. We can spend our lives denying this evident truth or accept its reality. We may never possess all the answers nor comprehend its origins and causes, but we can make our suffering redemptive and understand it as an opportunity for radical change.  And so when that time arrives when we too cry out, “Oh Lord, why has this dreadful thing happened to me?” we might respond in a way that new opportunities and another way might be revealed to us… as it did for Christ in Gethsemane that night when the answer which came back was that he might save the world.