Thoughts on Compassion and Courage in a Difficult Age

“Courage and compassion are two sides of the same coin. Compassion without courage is not genuine. You may have a compassionate thought or impulse, but if you don’t do or say anything, it’s not real compassion.”

— Daisaku Ikeda

Like most of us, I’ve been so overwhelmed with the devastating loss of life in terrorist acts, both foreign and domestic. And I’ve again been disheartened by the lack of attention paid here in the US to the serious terror attacks happening outside of Europe or the US. The continuing push of nationalism here and elsewhere. There are many things happening in the US, and elsewhere, that disturb me greatly. And I’m very concerned about a political climate that seems to be fostering the worst of the racists, xenophobes, and haters, while drowning out the voices of reason. Whispering on the wind. That’s what it often feels like.

“The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.”

— Robert Green Ingersoll

While I was trying to decide what to write, on this very broad compassion topic of courage, my then 16-year-old daughter suggested something about bullying, and the courage to stand up for others. And I, perhaps not very helpfully, made a comment about Donald Trump. Which led my, exasperated, daughter to ask “why is it always about politics?” My response was simply that Trump was a bully. Which is true. But I do see her point.

The reality, though, is that, in the end, it’s always politics. Maybe not electioneering-type politics – not the politics that we think of when we think of the word. But the politics of life. “the total complex of relations between people living in society” as Merriam-Webster would have it. At the micro level this is what matters. And my daughter is right, compassion does compel us to act in the face of bullying. At school, at sporting events, in social settings. We, as compassionate, caring, people cannot abide the abuse of others. And we do need to act. Acting on that can take many forms. Of course, personal safety, and the safety of others, factors into it – as does the actual circumstance. Sometimes observing, and reporting, is all that you can, or should do. Sometimes there’s opportunity to intervene directly. There is never one answer. But we should never ignore it when we witness it. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to keep a village safe and secure. We all shoulder that responsibility. That’s what makes a community – it’s why societies form. And that is part of the courage of moral conviction that underlies our sense of compassion, and gives us the ability to act.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”
— Mark Twain

This cannot, however, be truly separated from Politics-with-a-capital-p. Our daily interpersonal relationships, and the smaller societies of our families, and our communities, are a part of the larger whole – our counties, our states, our country. We have responsibilities in all of those. And as citizens of a representative government, we have responsibilities that are, dare I say, political. We need to vote, yes, but more than voting, we owe it to ourselves, our children, and our country, to understand the issues – and to pay attention. In politics, and in life, there can be many correct answers. Very rarely does any one candidate, or any one party have everything right. But that’s okay, too – perfection doesn’t exist, and circumstances change.

“We habitually erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who’s right and who’s wrong. We do that with the people who are closest to us and we do it with political systems, with all kinds of things that we don’t like about our associates or our society.

It is a very common, ancient, well-perfected device for trying to feel better. Blame others….Blaming is a way to protect your heart, trying to protect what is soft and open and tender in yourself. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground.”
— Pema Chödrön

However, something feels different this time. The angry voices are not only getting louder, they’ve managed to convert others to their causes. And they are bullying – threats, intimidation, hateful rhetoric. And we, as compassionate, caring, people cannot abide the abuse of others. We are compelled to act. Society needs us to act. It seems overwhelming, but we need to continue to write, to protest, to attempt to educate others that there is a better way. That hate is never the answer. That walls, and guns, witch hunts, and religious persecution will not make us safe.

“Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.”

— Billy Graham

At all levels, the answer is the same – we need the courage of our compassion, and our convictions to drive out the bullying.

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. 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 which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
― Robert F. Kennedy

Originally published on July 20, 2016 for that month’s #1000Speak post – some minor changes, mostly unchanged.

 

 

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