After reading Becca Leech’s touching story about Louis, I really wanted to be a part of the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion. So I looked up the meaning and was not surprised that the dictionary definition of “compassion” included both “a feeling of sympathy” and “a desire to help those afflicted.” My mind was set on fire. Mother Teresa. AIDS in Africa – and around the world. Modern day slavery and child pornography. Oppression in North Korea and persecution around the world. Starvation. Yowzers…
I am, by and large, a compassionate person. I’m authentically and painfully sympathetic to those whose lives are too awful to imagine. And I, along with many others, cannot understand why humans cannot – or will not – support, love, protect and care for each other. We want to alleviate all manner of despair, hopelessness and grief.
However, the definition says “a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” So, I really think that compassionate needs to have a little bit of a make-over. Or a booster shot. Because having a desire to create solutions doesn’t mean a ding-dang anything unless we take action. Simply put, my feelings of compassion for those in need matter only if they inspire me to get busy.
So, what does that look like? When I consider the list, I see situations that are mostly far away and so big that I can’t. I just can’t. I can’t even research them for fear that the reality of the awfulness leaves me frozen…unable to respond. I become increasingly overwhelmed not only by the magnitude of the problem, but also by the pitiful and harsh reality of man’s inhumanity to man.
And the truth is, on my own, I can’t really do much about AIDS or poverty or pornography, persecution or world-wide hunger. Nobody can.
Even if I could travel to places that scare the be-jeepers out of me, I feel small and incapable.
But, I can join others in the fight. I can contribute financially. I can contact my political representatives and raise my voice about how we as a state or nation should be spending our millions. I can be more aware of how I may unwittingly contribute to bad situations simply by how I shop. And it will make a difference.
But I can do so much more by doing little. I can show compassion to those around me. They may not be experiencing crippling poverty or the fear of an incurable disease. But almost everyone I know is living day to day with real problems that cause them real heartache. Yes, we live in pretty safe communities where these systemic, deadly catastrophes pose little threat.
But my friends and family, and people around me I just barely know, and people that know people I know are all at risk for heartbreak and loss. They experience rough times and disappointment on a daily basis. And for these people, I can make a difference. For their needs, of whatever size, can almost always be resolved by the compassion of those nearby. A bag of groceries, taxi service to the doctor’s office, free IT service, or assistance with a family move might be all it would take to make their lives immeasurably better.
And maybe it’s not convenient or my first choice for a Saturday morning. But it’s compassion that I can not only feel but also show. And, in the end, that’s the only kind that matters.