Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Are You Compassionate?

 Human Understanding

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling 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 to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Albert Einstein,
Letter of 1950, as quoted in The New York Times (29 March 1972) 
and The New York Post (28 November 1972)

“Compassion is the basis of morality.”
―Arthur Schopenhauer,
On the Basis of Morality (1840)


One of the meanings of compassion is to "suffer with" a fellow human being with the desire to alleviate the suffering that he or she is currently undergoing. It can equally apply, I am sure, to other non-human sentient beings suffering and the desires of such animals to relieve their pain. That is, compassion is not limited to human-human interactions; it crosses all kinds of humanly and scientifically defined boundaries.

This is heart-warming, but also problematic. Here's why. Compassion is one of those words that is often invoked, certainly by religions and philosophies, but it is hard to put in practice in real life. It involves a dedication to an ideal that few understand intellectually, let alone have the ability to put into practice in a concrete physical way.

It almost appears as if compassion stands so much apart from humanity, so above it, that it requires some supernatural force to invoke, to bring it into being as a force of love. Yet, it is human, and it takes a desire, a decision, a will, if you will, to act compassionately. Personal suffering is often the catalyst. It involves a human turning from egoism to altruism, not easy to do since it involves not the negating of self, but the opposite: having a highly developed self-awareness. In such individuals, the desire to give is done by well-rounded and thoughtful individuals who sense a deep connection to others. This is no wishy-washy thing.

Even so, if you randomly ask most individuals if they are compassionate, few would admit they are not. It has been my experience that compassion is desired by everyone, but few have it in great measure. In my view, it is such a rare human characteristic that when one encounters it in undiluted form, the result is an instantaneous bringing of tears.

Such are my musings; here is what Wikipedia, the compiled wisdom of the Internet, a database of human thought, says on the matter:
Compassion is the emotion that one feels in response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help.[1][2]

Compassion is often regarded as having an emotional aspect to it, though when based on cerebral notions such as fairness, justice and interdependence, it may be considered rational in nature and its application understood as an activity based on sound judgment. There is also an aspect of compassion which regards a quantitative dimension, such that individual's compassion is often given a property of "depth," "vigour," or "passion." The etymology of "compassion" is Latin, meaning "co-suffering." More involved than simple empathy, compassion commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another's suffering.[2]
It is my view that compassion can have a cathartic effect on humans. This is worth thinking about and acting on.

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