Thoughts on Compassion – and why it matters

“A movement is only composed of people moving. To feel its warmth and motion around us is the end as well as the means.”

— Gloria Steinem

As I was finishing getting my thoughts organized for this month’s #1000Speak post, Yvonne’s post with the monthly linkup hit my inbox. So as I finally begin putting this together, I’m also reflecting a bit about the the past near-year that I’ve been involved.

When I’d first heard about this, I thought it was a wonderful idea – no, I did not expect that the world was going to change. I knew it wouldn’t – that takes many more people, and much more time, but you have to start somewhere. And the best, in fact, only, place to start is with yourself and your own corner of the universe. No matter how much we may think otherwise, everything we say and do has an impact on those around us. Sometimes intentionally, most times not. Sometimes the impact is direct, sometimes not. But when we are compassionate, or at least kind, most others will pass that positive feeling or action along to those that they come into contact with – in the same way that our rudeness or carelessness can negatively impact someone else’s day. Or someone else’s thoughtlessness can ruin our day – especially if we we are dealing with our own challenges. Everyone has challenges of their own to work through, and they are not always obvious, so part of being a good human is to be mindful of other people. All of the time.

I still think it’s a wonderful – an important – idea. Not only has it given me the opportunity to share my own thoughts with a wider community, but it’s provided me with perspectives, and individual stories, that I would otherwise have missed. It’s also helped me to focus my thoughts on what it means to be human, and perhaps has kept me more aware of my own words and actions, and the impact that they can have.

Humans are social creatures. We need other humans – and their interactions with us are critical to our own well-being. Just as we are to theirs. Yes, we are highly individualized and do not function as a hive (although mob actions may sometimes make it seem so), but that does not mean we can discount the crucial fact that we need society. And it also needs us, or the social compact fails.

Human societies have historically formed in order to protect and support it members. The nuclear family is the initial society, the extended family the next level. Eventually we find others outside the family unit but still like us that can supply us with food, shelter, protection from outsiders. Expanded, these become the states and nations where we live, or where our roots lie. Within these, and frequently moving beyond, we also affiliate ourselves with others through our religion beliefs, our genders, our race and ethnicity, our hobbies, our interests, or anything else that means much to us, and fulfills our basic need for someone to share with. Someone to identify with. Someone to understand.

But since societies exist for the benefit of all members, we have obligations to the group, and we have rules that need to be followed. Legal, societal, religious – whatever their source in our lives, each group has rules defined in order to keep order, provide for the common good, and keep the group protected. Living with those rules require us to give up some individual rights, or to limit others, because the entire point of a community is the benefit to the majority.

Over time – millennia, in fact – the base communities that formed undergo changes. People move – for trade, for food, for a more hospitable climate – and the outsiders integrated with their new community, sometimes not so smoothly, and the community, as a living organism, adapts itself to these changes. Assimilation for the newcomers, yes, but also adaptations in the old guard to fully integrate the newcomers.And many times the newcomers became the dominate culture, and rules and expectations changed – perhaps not always for the better. But, through it all, humanity survived. Flourished, actually. And still we moved, conquered, assimilated, and endured. We are likely to continue doing all of the above as long as their is life on this planet. But the world has gradually become smaller in a very real sense – transportation and communication have improved that our movement, and our information flow has reached ever-increasing speeds, at the same time that population has increased, and there are fewer uncharted territories. So, then, all movement now tends to be to areas already populated, sometimes densely so. For those regions have available jobs, relative tranquility, relative prosperity. We move seeking more opportunity, or simply to flee an untenable situation at home. We do this locally – within our own borders, and in too many case, we do so globally – to new nations that are not suffering drought, famine, war. And our very human desire to close ranks and keep the outsiders on the outside is in conflict with our equally basic human need to connect, to reach out, to care. And for many, that internal conflict inexplicably causes us to close ourselves in tighter.

I don’t have answers – I wish I did. Like most of us, I understand the complex, and not so complex, reason why we behave as we do. But I do firmly believe that we each have the capacity to do good in small, localized ways, and that those acts of kindness and compassion do ripple out outward. And if enough of us continue in that vein, knowing that we are not alone in our endeavors, that slowly we can begin to change things – one small piece of the universe at a time.

“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

— Robert F. Kennedy













14 thoughts on “Thoughts on Compassion – and why it matters”

  1. I agree. Our Christmas Day is done and dusted now and was a wonderful day. Not all that hot after all and filled with family, great food and some presents. Hope yours is just as good xx Rowena

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I also find that sometime compassion comes hardest for the people closest to me – I have far more patience and tolerance with strangers. That may be a side-effect of parenthood. 🙂
    But I try…
    Have a wonderful Christmas, Rowena- Best wishes for a happy, healthy new year!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. thank you – I find that reading the posts each month helps keep me a bit better centered. With all of the hate & vitriol on the internet these days, its nice to find a warmer, kinder, place.
    Have a very happy, peaceful holiday

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a great and inspirational post. I am currently catching up on the latest additions to the link-up and immersing myself in compassion and goodness and it’s so good. Despite being exhausted and feeling like mashed up couch potato, I also feel inspired. Ironically, I think the greatest challenge lies with those we live and work with on a daily basis. It’s much easier to be compassionate to certain strangers or to jump on the bandwagon and help someone who has become something of a local “cause”. We don’t know them well enough to get rattled.
    A few years ago, I heard a Pastor pray for “those we love and those we struggle to love” and for me, they were one and the same.
    So, since I’d better turn my words into action, I’d better get back to wrapping presents and go buy food for dinner. Make a good Christmas Eve dinner for the family as we’ll be out for Christmas Day.
    Wishing you & yours a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
    xx Rowena

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “And the best, in fact, only, place to start is with yourself and your own corner of the universe. ”

    There is an Eastern philosophic concept known as ahimsa—basically non-harming—which is related to compassion. A teacher I had was talking about this, how a lot of people when discussing ahimsa will talk in terms of world peace or some big global issue, or maybe bring it down to local crime and conditions, but always outside and away from the personal. But his point, which has stayed with me, is that ahimsa “begins at home”, with yourself first, then your family. It is NOT an easy thing to do.

    Liked by 3 people

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