A man with two arms stands on a mountain. In the distance he sees a sick child dying under a tree as vultures fly above. The man stretches out one of his arms toward the child. And then he contorts his other arm, bends it in the opposite direction, and pats himself on the back.
Who deserves our compassion? Is it sick children and impoverished families? The elderly and disabled? The kid who was beaten by his father or molested by his uncle? Are they the ones who have become less fortunate than the rest of us? Are they the ones who need our help?
They are certainly easy targets for compassion. But the danger in having compassion on those who seem less fortunate is the possibility of entitlement this brings. You are better off, so you have the ability to help. Oh, dear readers, that is certainly a lie.
Most of us are members of the middle class. And this is a good thing. By definition, we are more balanced than the poor and the rich. Compassion should start here, not in the middle class, but where we know it. We must be aware of our selves before we try to help the lives of people we don't understand. Compassion is not charity. Charity is way of alleviating the guilt that overcomes us due to our misunderstanding of suffering. "A child is starving! Give ten dollars a month to Compassion International and you'll help." Maybe you'll help something, somewhere (maybe), but you will not be showing compassion.
The word "compassion" should always remind us of the word "companion". As its definition shows, compassion is "sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it". Somehow, many of us have chosen to focus on the second half of compassion's definition. We want to alleviate distress, but we don't want to personalize it. But, dear readers, the only way compassion is possible is through sympathy.
What is sympathy? "An affinity, association, or relationship between persons or things wherein whatever affects one similarly affects the other." Does this sound like giving money to poor kids in Africa? Or pouring soup at a homeless shelter?
Compassion and charity are not synonymous with each other. Charity is certainly a helpful thing, and should continue, but it must never be confused with compassion.
Those who need charity are those who have fallen victim to fate's cruelty, and have no say in their situations. The ones who deserve compassion have brought suffering upon themselves, and could have very well avoided their suffering through wisdom or humility. So when we watch Maury and laugh at the 18 year old girl who became pregnant as a result of sleeping with one of three (or more) men, we are getting closer to the person we should have compassion on.
Of course, television perverts the entire process. Compassion isn't possible through airwaves. It requires physical contact and time with an individual. Family is where compassion really starts. That automatic group of "loved ones" who have no choice but to treat each other with dignity and respect. This is where we first learn compassion.
And if we can learn it in our family, we can take compassion further out into the neighborhood. Just as it should be with birth, everything starts with family. Everything.
Your douchebag cousin, your cougar aunt, rapist uncle, gangbangin' brother, hypocritical mother. These are the people you must show compassion towards. Because if you don't start with them, you'll never be able to love your douchebag neighbor, slutty neighbor, pervert neighbor, gangbangin' neighbor, and Christian neighbors.
Do not have compassion on those you've never met. Do not try. That would be a perversion of compassion, and you will confuse yourself. Charity should not even be attempted until compassion has been learned. Because charity seeks to reach what compassion could not. If you overreach, you could easily fall over the ledge.
Compassion shows me that I am no better off than any rapist, douchebag, whore or hypocrite out there. I am just as bad as they are. I don't look down on them, I sympathize with them.
"Sympathize with a rapist! Surely thee jest! That is sin!"
Oh, sorry Mr. self-righteous American. I didn't see you there.
Of course nobody wants to sin. But that's not the point (because everyone does sin). The point is compassion for those who do sin, instead of judgment. One of the definitions of charity is actually "lenient judgment of others", but compassion does no such thing. Compassion is admitting one's situation as it mirrors another's. It is not pretending to be on a higher level than another human being. It is sitting on the same park bench and feeding the same fat pigeons.
Sin is not a requirement of compassion, but it always turns out to be a prerequisite. Don't make friends based on your virtues, but on your vices. You will be able to hold each other up when weakness sets in, because you will have a conscious understanding of each other's distress.
A man with two arms sits under a tree with a sick, dying man who he had previously thought to be a sick, dying child. In the distance he sees a mountain. He uses one arm to bat away vultures, and the other to hold the man's dying body. Eventually, someone dies. But not alone.