Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Compassion and Imagination


It's difficult for me to imagine, considering how fucked-up the world is, that most people simply don't seem to give a shit about the world or the people in it. I understand that I'm more aware of what's going on, and that I'm more sensitive to it than most people are, but still—what the hell does it take for people to be able to see, or to be able to care about, their fellows?

I've had my own journey, when it comes to having my eyes opened to the plights of those in the world who are suffering; it's taken me a while to begin seeing, caring, and trying to do whatever I can to help alleviate some of that suffering. But still . . . trying to help people to see what's happening in the world, and trying to help people care about the sufferings of others, shouldn't be like trying to pull impacted wisdom teeth should it? Don't people—normal, average, everyday people—have a heart? I mean, they're not completely selfish and self-centered are they? I mean, completely?! Isn't there some part of them that can be reached, somehow?

I've had my own intellectual and emotional journey in developing a more compassionate attitude toward my fellows. It wasn't something that just happened overnight. And I realize that other people, too, are (hopefully) on a similar journey. I hope they are anyway; because sometimes I'm really not sure about most people. It seems to me like most of them will never care; no matter how bad things get and no matter how much suffering there is in the world.

I guess it's because they have a very small-minded view of the world; sort of a "me, myself, and I" or an "us four and no more" type attitude.

Lately, considering how bad things have gotten, I'm wondering if people haven't lost their minds—their powers of reason and rationality. "Can't you simply see and figure out what's going on?" I ask. Since most of them can't, I wonder, "Have they lost their minds?" But then I realize they haven't lost their ability to reason—they've lost their hearts. They have little-to-no compassion. They're too wrapped up in themselves and their own little worlds to care about anyone beyond the scope of their own narrow field of vision. And, whenever I do get their attention, they are filled with self doubt and pessimism; not able to believe that it's possible for anyone to ever be able to do anything that will ever bring about the kinds of change we need in this nation and in the world. And, in a sense, they're right: We never will—not with that attitude.

I can remember when I became a Christian, because it was an eye-opening and paradigm-shifting experience for me: it was early one weekday morning, around ten o'clock or so, during either May or June of 1985. And that experience didn't occur in a vacuum either. I had been raised Catholic, so it's wasn't like I had never heard or thought about Christ until that time—it was a journey—but there was that one specific moment in time when my old paradigm collapsed and was replaced by a new—and better—paradigm.

So this is what I try to do, when I'm talking to people: help to bring about the shattering of their faulty paradigms; the faulty way in which they view of the world. And I'm not just talking about religious paradigm or worldviews either; I'm talking about social and political worldviews too—especially lately.

I think the most important ability one needs to develop, when it comes to being compassionate, it to be able to put oneself in someone else's place. Jesus said that we should, "do unto others as we would have them to do unto us" and that, I think, is the best possible way that he could have ever communicated to us how we should live our lives: with consideration for others.

Do you ever consider other people? I'm sure that you do, at least those who are close to you. But do you ever consider the thoughts, feelings, and life-situations of people you really don't know, people that you hear about or see in the newspapers, the weekly news magazines, and on television? Do you ever try to put yourselves in their places? Try to feel what they must be feeling? Try to imagine what it must be like to live their life-experience? This, I think, is the key to having compassion: getting outside of ourselves and into the hearts and minds of other people—people who have it a lot worse in life than we do.

Me and my dad used to argue about universal health care— years ago, before it ever became a real issue, like it is now—and I would always say that I couldn't see the sense in the U. S. having what would amount to a universal socialist utopian health care system when many of the people who live right next door to us—our neighbors, the Mexicans—didn't even have sewers, running water, or electricity. Wouldn't it make more sense, I said, for all of us, at least to start with, at least had sewers, running water, and electricity first; and then we could begin talking about universal health care, for everyone?

How, in good conscience, can any American simply ignore the plight of the people who live right next door to us? Because we don't think about them. We're too busy thinking about ourselves.

It's not that the American people aren't compassionate—my dad was one of the most compassionate people I have ever known, which is why he wanted all Americans to have affordable health care—it's just that our focus is simply too narrow.

I would love to see all Americans have health care, but I would love to see all Mexicans have sewers, running water, and electricity first. I feel guilty enough having sewers, running water, and electricity—knowing that many of my neighbors do not—and I simply can't imagine adding a new heath care benefit to all of that while my neighbors are doing without all of the many things that we have, which we so easily take for granted.

"Out of sight out of mind" seems to be the motto of the selfish, self-centered, and compassionless American. Who cares about the Mexicans? "Build a wall to keep them out!" Who cares about the Palestinians? "Send Israel more money and more weapons so that they can kill even more of them!" Who cares about the Iraqi and Afghani civilians being killed by the U. S. military? "Send more troops and weapons to Iraq and Afghanistan!"

But if you ever went to Mexico and saw for yourselves what it's like to live there . . . and if you ever went to Gaza, Palestine and saw for yourselves what it was like to live there . . . and if you ever saw for yourself what it's like to have to clean up the mess that's left after a stray rocket or shell blows to pieces an Iraqi or Afghani family . . . you might have a very different opinion about it.

Might you not?

Is that what it takes? Do you actually have to go to these places to see it for yourselves before you will understand? Do you actually have to go to these places to be able to smell the open sewers for yourselves before you will understand? Do you actually have to go to these places for you to be able to hear the people who've lost their loved ones crying in anguish before you will understand? Can you not simply imagine it? Can you not simply put yourselves in the place of these peoples and simply imagine what it must be like to live life as they do?

Perhaps this is our problem: a lack of imagination. Well, do me a favor today: try and imagine what it must be like to live as people in other parts of the world live, or even as people in other parts of your city live. Not everyone has it as well as you do, you know. Have a heart; get outside of yourselves for five minutes; and take the time to think about what you can do to make the world a better place—for everyone.

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