I try to be a compassionate person. Some of it doesn’t require effort. I don’t need to try to be deeply affected when I pass a homeless man on the street. It’s no effort to find myself in tears over a heartbreaking news story. But it’s sadly easy to become callous to other things, equally requiring empathy.
My son has spurred me to think about compassion a lot lately. He’s had a soft heart since he was only a few months old. At about half a year, he would join other little ones his age in a playroom. Every time a new child came through the door, Little J would smile brightly and greet them with a hug. Whenever a baby started to cry, his brow would furrow in concern and he’d pat a shoulder or offer a toy. He has such a big heart for such a small one. His example sort of stuns me.
But, he makes me think about compassion in other ways- in my interactions with him throughout the day. When he’s being “bad”- screaming at the grocery store, throwing food at the restaurant- I discipline him, but I understand. My reprimands are tempered with the knowledge that he’s only acting out because he’s tired or hungry or there’s some unfilled void, some reason for his behavior.
And that’s how we all are, truly. Even the most selfish, the most angry, the most spiteful of us all behave that way because of some need, a void, a brokenness. The philosophical debate of whether people are innately good or bad seems a bit off to me. That’s not the question. We all have the capacity for all sorts of evil. It just depends on the level of our brokenness. And we all are, if we’re honest, a little bit broken. I may not be an abusive mom, but I don’t question that I could be. I’m just very lucky to not have the history or the pain that drives someone to be such. But I have been broken. I have a seed of selfishness that feeds a short temper, a sardonic sense of humor, a capacity for bitterness, a level of haughtiness, and an overzealous protection of self. I’m no better than a woman who neglects her child, cheats on her husband, or steals groceries. I’m only luckier.
It’s easy to have selective compassion. It’s difficult to seek to understand that everyone fails in some way, and that failings aren’t a reason for anger or hatred. They’re a reason for compassion and love. It’s something I need to remind myself every day. Sadly, I have a much easier time understanding certain bad choices over others. But even willful ignorance, racism, sexism, greed, legalism, hypocrisy… even these are rooted in some pain or want or need.
I’m quick to react with impassioned anger over injustice and wrongdoing. I wish I were more quick to respond by seeking understanding.
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