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August 04, 2014


How does one make compassionate choices closer to home when one does not even understand his wife?

Brian, with the highest regard for you, I must agree with your wife. Compassion does not appear to be your strongest suit. It is not mine either, for what might be the same reasons.

Compassion requires an openness to others' states of need -physical or emotional- that often runs contrary to activism's drive to simplify to base issues and "sides."

I did not even become aware of my own shortcomings in compassion until I made a trip to some exceedingly poor, in material terms, places in southern Africa. It was a major eye-opener about myself.

I'm not advocating for a huge change in your personality or approach to life. Hell, I LIKE what I have seen of both!

But be aware of yourself.

Best wishes, and I have no problem with you moderating this out, if you so choose. I am not talking to the world. I'm just talking to you.

TjPfau, you didn't read my post very carefully. I didn't say that I didn't understand my wife. I said that I didn't know what it was like TO BE my wife.

This is unarguable, right? You don't know what it like to be anyone than yourself, because all of your life you have only been YOU. This is the case with everybody. We live in our own private world of individual consciousness.

Why do you say I am not compassionate?

I do a lot of volunteer work. I've been a vegetarian for 45 years. I donate, along with my wife, to quite a few charities. I'm active in both my neighborhood and our city at large. I've done my part to make the world a better place.

Like I said in the title of this post, I don't believe that words have much to do with how compassionate someone is. Talking is different from acting. We can say the right thing and not do the right thing.

Hi Brian, apologies for not getting back to this sooner. It has been a very busy time for me.

I'll try once more. Compassion is not an act of helping someone. Compassion is an act of understanding someone.

Actually, one CAN know what it is like to be "anyone but oneself." Most people will tell you what it is like to be them, if you ask and listen.

And this act of asking and listening is the heart of compassion, not when it is done with those we are already in sympathy with, but when it is done with those we are NOT in sympathy with.

The first is recruiting, the bonding of like minds, this is sympathy, not compassion.

The second is reaching out to the un-like mind for the purpose of understanding the "why" of their actions and behaviors.

For example, more often than not, you and I are in complete agreement of the merits of City Government's policy decisions. But we rarely agree on the motives of the individuals making them.

If you were serious in your concern about whether or not you appear to be compassionate, -and I responded because I assumed you were- you might find it productive to examine whether you treat those individuals as you wish to be treated yourself.

"Adversarial" on the facts does not require value judgments on the adversary. Such judgments establish a self-blinding fiction regarding the adversary's motivation. It is a comfortable fiction, one that gives us the moral "high ground." But it is not compassionate and can also lead to factual errors on our part.

Next time I see you at the Library, I'll introduce myself. I'm not entirely comfortable in doing this by exchange of notes but it is a conversation I'd like to have.

If nothing else it would be good practice.

TjPfau, I hear what you're saying. Interestingly, in discussions with fellow liberals I often argue that those we disagree with usually feel they are doing the right thing to the same degree as progressives do.

In fact, aside from sociopaths, virtually everybody feels that they are acting morally and ethically. Even, I'd say, Islamic extremist terrorists.

Since I don't believe in free will, mine or anyone else's (I'm a Sam Harris fan), I do my best not to judge others -- since they are as helpless to do what they're doing as I am to do what I'm doing.

I belong to a monthly Salon discussion group where this is one of my favorite subjects. I'll say something like, "Almost certainly Bush and Cheney felt invading Iraq was the best thing to do for the good of the country and the world."

Usually I'll then be met with, "Oh no they didn't! They knew this was wrong. They just wanted to feather the nest of Big Oil and their neo-con backers." Etc.

I can understand that point of view. But even if that is true, I don't think Bush and Cheney, or anyone, has a choice to decide what decisions and attitudes they will make and hold.

We're all interconnected. No man or woman is an island. Thus open and honest discussion is vitally important (a purpose of libraries, obviously).

Which means, if I disagree with someone, I need to openly and honestly speak my mind. It isn't compassionate to allow someone to get away with views or actions that, in my own mind, aren't positive, truthful, or helpful.

This doesn't mean that I know what is objectively positive, truthful, or helpful. I don't. Nobody does. All I can do is do what I feel needs doing, just as everyone else does.

Yes, those words and actions do give us some insights into what another person is like on the inside. However, I know, as I am sure you do also, that how I feel as "Me" is very much different -- if not totally different -- from how others view me. So their ability to feel compassion for me as I am is very limited.

Their compassion is restricted to their decidedly imperfect and incomplete view of me from the outside.

The recent debate over domestic violence is a good example. A battered woman will say, "Just leave us alone. I don't want any help." Instead of taking that comment at face value, other women will say "She needs help in understanding what she really needs."

Personally, I fall on both sides of this issue. I respect the battered woman's subjectivity and knowledge of how she feels from the inside. I also respect those who feel the need to try to change her perspective.

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